Oak Woodlands

An oak-studded hillside near Old Sonoma Road.

Audience members grilled Measure C proponents and opponents over how the watershed and oak woodland initiative on the June 5 ballot might affect Napa County.

They packed a room at the Napa Valley Unitarian Universalists church in Napa on Wednesday evening for a forum sponsored by the League of Women Voters of Napa County.

Championing Measure C on the panel were Chris Benz of the Sierra Club and Napa City Councilman Scott Sedgley. Opposing it were Jeri Hansen of Sustainable Napa County and Phillip Blake, who previously worked for the Natural Resources Conservation Service.

“Why is the wine industry now saying tourism and event centers are the real threats to Napa County?” one resident asked. “It’s in the mailers.”

No on Measure C mailers do indeed make that claim. One says, “Measure C will encourage the development of luxury homes and event centers that are the real threats to our hillsides and viewsheds.”

Measure C would stop the cutting down of oak woodlands for new vineyards in the watershed after the next 795 acres of oaks are removed. It would strengthen stream setbacks. One stated goal of proponents is to protect water quality in reservoirs serving local cities and protect groundwater.

Hansen said Measure C targets agriculture in agricultural zones, but has homes and wineries among its exemptions. A comprehensive community discussion should take place, she said.

“We also need to talk about where wineries go, we also need to talk about where homes go in the unincorporated area and in the AW (ag-watershed) zone,” Hansen said.

Sedgley said it’s unfortunate that No on Measure C is spinning its message in an attempt to confuse voters on the premise that confused voters usually vote “no.” There is a lot of misinformation.

“It’s pretty simple,” he said. “If we continue to overdevelop the land around our watershed, we will impact the environment with everything we do. It’s simple.”

A woman asked if Measure C opponents can guarantee community leaders will take watershed-protection steps, if citizens don’t try on their own with an initiative.

Hansen said water conservation, energy efficiency, greenhouse gas emission reduction and other topics could go into the evolving county climate action plan. Measure C takes a sliver approach and focuses on one narrow, perceived problem.

Benz responded that the Measure C proposal of strengthening stream setbacks has been around since 2004 and the county still hasn’t acted.

“I think that adds to our concern that if the voters don’t act, no one will act,” Benz said.

A man asked if any law exists—without Measure C—that would stop him from clear-cutting a 160-acre property he might buy in the watershed.

“Yes there is,” Blake said. “Under the current regulations and under state regulations, there are very tight controls.”

The county allows no more than 40 percent of woodland properties and no more than 60 percent of brushland properties to be cleared, he said. Also, Cal Fire has tight regulations on clearing land with trees that can be used for lumber. Anything over three acres requires an environmental impact report and scrutiny from the state and county, he said.

Benz said the Measure C water quality buffer zones will apply in all woodlands. But the tree-cutting limits beyond the setbacks can apply only to oak woodlands.

“Measure C cannot regulate coniferous forests because that is considered by the state to be commercial timberland,” Benz said. “And the state takes charge of that.”

Sedgley had another answer.

“If you bought 160 acres in the watershed and you clear-cut it, I would hope your neighbors tar-and-feather you,” he said to laughter.

Third District supervisorial candidates also addressed the Measure C issue. Supervisor Diane Dillon is running for a fifth term to represent the heart of Napa Valley and farmer Cio Perez is challenging her.

Perez said he favors Measure C. This long-time member of Napa County Farm Bureau also speculated this stance may have cost him the Farm Bureau endorsement, which went to Dillon.

“I think we need to be proactive about the protection of our hillsides and our watersheds,” Perez said. “I think there is in fact a limit that needs to be considered, when we’re considering our water, both quantity and quality.”

Dillon said she is neutral on Measure C.

“I support the good intentions,” Dillon said. “I understand people are concerned about their water quality and their watershed.”

Napa County and city of Napa have embarked on a study of the Milliken Reservoir watershed. Dillon said the county will make a fact-based decision on further watershed policies once it has the data.

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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.