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Oak woodland initiative backers shooting for Napa County's June ballot

Oak woodland initiative backers shooting for Napa County's June ballot

Oak removal permit program in Watershed Initiative (copy)

Local residents are launching another effort to qualify a watershed and oak woodlands initiative for next June's ballot.

Supporters of a watershed protection initiative are gathering signatures to place their measure on the June 5 ballot, even as segments of the wine industry prepare to oppose it.

The backers have a Dec. 5 deadline to gather about 3,800 signatures from registered, local voters to qualify the measure for the ballot. To create a cushion, they are aiming for more than 6,000 signatures.

“Let’s let the voters decide,” said Angwin resident Mike Hackett, who is a measure co-author.

“The earth does need a lighter touch,” said rural resident Jim Wilson, also a co-author.

At issue is creating new vineyards and other development in the agricultural watershed zoning district, which consists mostly of local hills and mountains, though it also includes the Carneros region. The zoning district does not include the Napa Valley floor.

The measure would set a limit of 795 acres of additional oak woodlands to be removed in the agricultural watershed. Beyond that, property owners wanting to remove oak woodlands would have to obtain a county permit.

The county could issue permits only for certain circumstances. Opponents say the result would be basically banning hillside vineyard development in the agricultural watershed.

Hackett and Wilson have said the 795-acre oak removal limit is based on the county’s general plan that lasts through 2030. The goal was to calculate how much woodlands would need to be removed to meet the plan’s projections for new vineyards, after which the restrictions would kick in.

Also included in the measure are stronger stream setback laws.

Napa County Farm Bureau and Winegrowers of Napa County are opposing the measure. Napa Valley Grapegrowers has expressed concern about it.

“We believe governing by initiative should be a last resort when all other options have been exhausted,” said Ryan Klobas, policy director for the Farm Bureau.

The Farm Bureau wants to educate the public on the county’s existing conservation laws, he said.

It’s unclear what position the Napa Valley Vintners will take. The group co-authored an earlier version of the measure along with Wilson and Hackett, then called for more community collaboration amid a backlash that included some of its own members.

Rex Stults of Napa Valley Vintners said the group’s Board of Directors last week voted for Napa Valley Vintners to “terminate involvement” with the proposed measure. He didn’t say whether Napa Valley Vintners might actively oppose it.

Napa Valley Vintners’ focus at the moment is looking out for the well-being of its members and the community in the wake of the recent wildfires, Stults said. The group doesn’t need to make an immediate decision about a proposed measure that has yet to qualify for the ballot.

Any future position on the measure will be made with input from members and study by the group’s community and industry issues committee, said a Napa Valley Vintners email to members.

Wilson almost lost his home over the past couple of weeks to the now-tamed Atlas Fire. He lives along Monticello Road north of Wooden Valley Road between Napa and Lake Berryessa.

“The fire did pour down off the ridgeline to the west of us and came down to the highway, but didn’t cross,” Wilson said. “We were very, very lucky.”

In the wake of the fires, proponents weighed whether they still had time and energy to gather signatures by the Dec. 5 deadline to qualify a measure for the June 2018 ballot. They could have delayed and waited for the November 2018 ballot.

“We see the watershed has taken a serious hit … why postpone it? We understand it is urgent to protect the trees we have remaining. We propose to help with the recovery of the health of the watershed,” Wilson said.

The version of the measure being circulated for signatures is almost identical to the one co-written with Napa Valley Vintners, Hackett said. Among the differences is stronger language about protecting existing vineyards, he added.

Hackett and Wilson haven’t forgotten about their collaboration with Napa Valley Vintners.

“This has their fingerprints all over it as well,” Hackett said.

Napa Valley Vintners, Napa County Farm Bureau, Winegrowers of Napa County and Napa Valley Grapegrowers all opposed a 2016 version of the oak woodlands initiative. The county disqualified that version by Wilson and Hackett from the ballot on a technicality.

Napa Valley Vintners officials said they collaborated with Wilson and Hackett this year on a version because they wanted to create something less onerous, given they knew the proponents would try again. But other wine industry groups criticized the results and said they were left out of the collaboration.

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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.

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