Napa County supervisors finally had their say on how to balance oak and watershed protections with new vineyard and other rural development after hearing plenty of passionate, conflicting advice from the public.
Supervisors are trying to resolve the Measure C battle that has split the community. The watershed and oak protection citizens’ initiative narrowly lost in the June 2018 election.
“Right now, we’re just doing our best to define the policy questions,” said Board of Supervisors Chairman Ryan Gregory as supervisors took a break in their deliberations in a meeting that topped six hours Tuesday.
County Planning Commission meetings will follow to delve more deeply into the issues. The Board of Supervisors isn’t scheduled to take a decisive vote until March 19 at the earliest.
Many of the community disagreements come down to how many oaks to protect and how far to keep new vineyards and other development away from streams and city reservoirs. Supervisors went through a list with 17 staff recommendations and gave their opinions.
The Board unanimously favored banning most development on slopes 30 percent or greater, such as most new vineyard development. A map shows this 30-percent slope land covers much of the county.
“I’m in favor of 30 percent today,” Supervisor Brad Wagenknecht said. “In a lot of these things, I’m going to say, ‘This is where I’m going today.’”
Napa County presently requires property owners developing land in municipal reservoir watersheds to keep at least 60 percent of the tree canopy. County staff recommended extending this law to the rest of the unincorporated county, but not increasing the percentages.
Supervisors quickly favored extending the protections to all unincorporated areas. They struggled to arrive at a percentage.
Supervisor Alfredo Pedroza suggested 70 percent canopy retention. Wagenknecht favored something higher. Supervisor Belia Ramos suggested a tiered approach for different slopes. Supervisor Diane Dillon was concerned how all of the new proposed policies, when taken together, might affect management of potentially flammable fuels.
As of 4:30 p.m. Tuesday, supervisors had yet to arrive at an answer.
Measure C backers wanted to increase the tree canopy protection to 85 percent. The Napa County Farm Bureau, Winegrowers of Napa County and Coalition Napa Valley suggested keeping the present law without extending protections beyond the municipal watersheds.
Supervisors want the county Planning Commission to explore establishing buffers of 200 feet to 500 feet around city reservoirs. Factors could include how much land Napa, Yountville, St. Helena and Calistoga own around their various reservoirs in local mountains.
One size does not fit all, Dillon said.
Clearly, supervisors were not going to make everybody in the packed room happy. More than 60 people came to the lectern during public comments with different points of view.
“I hate to see people fighting one another,” grape grower Davie Pina said. “I hate to see initiatives coming if there’s no science to it.”
The group Napa Vision 2050, a backer of Measure C, encouraged supervisors to be “courageous,” “remove the filters of denial” and “stop the dithering, the finger-pointing and the off-loading of responsibility.”
“For the sake of saving the world, we, the people who live here in Napa County and everyone else in the world, need leaders who will make personal sacrifices to ensure a healthy world for all,” Vision 2050 President Charlotte Williams wrote to the county. “We need you to take immediate action to protect and regenerate our natural environment.”
Napa Valley Grapegrowers President Paul Goldberg urged supervisors not to hastily add to the regulations faced by farmers.
“We need you to do your research and turn over every stone to make sure any changes you make are based on science,” Goldberg told supervisors.
Napa County Farm Bureau, Winegrowers of Napa County and Coalition Napa Valley submitted a joint letter saying current laws successfully sustain the environment. Still, the groups said, they remain open to changes based on Napa-specific science and evidence.
Supervisors should act in a manner consistent with science, rather than respond to “an environment where undue political pressure or threat of an initiative is a catalyst for change,” wrote Farm Bureau President Johnnie White, Winegrowers President Pina and Chuck Wagner of Coalition Napa Valley.
“It all comes down to you,” vintner Stuart Smith told supervisors. “Will you surrender to emotion or have the courage to support the general plan, science and facts?”
Napa City Councilman Scott Sedgley talked about Lake Hennessey reservoir and Milliken Reservoir, which provide water to city residents and businesses. He wants to protect the water that runs off the hills into the reservoirs. Visit the reservoirs after major storms and they look like mud puddles, he said.
Resident Patricia Damery said 90 percent tree canopy protection is critical. Climate change has changed everything, she said.
“Stating the science is missing does not mean the science is missing,” she said. “It’s a fighting tactic we’ve begun to use.”
The Center for Biological Diversity claimed to be using science. Among other things, it called for protecting 90 percent of the oak woodland canopy and 60 percent of grasslands and shrub land in a county that is a “biodiversity hot spot” with 150 special-status plant and animal species.
Resident Terry Scott wants the county to better enforce the rules it already has. He pointed to a hillside vineyard near Yountville that recently slid onto a county road with big storms.
“We’re approving things, but we’re not checking to see they are built the way they are approved,” Scott said.
This story has been changed since first posting to clarify Supervisor Diane Dillon's comment.