It used to be that saving trees, reducing carbon emissions, providing clean water and clean air, safeguarding the California Environmental Quality Act, promoting the interests of the middle class, and curtailing corporate greed were the hallmarks of the Democrat political agenda and what voters implicitly expect when they vote Democrat.
There would be much to say about the state of the national political scene but this writing is only concerned with the policies pursued by our local Board of Supervisors, all of whom are professed Democrats. But let's look at their record and what they have given us over the past decade in promoting that agenda. It looks very much one by Democrats-in-name-only.
The Walt Ranch development before them is seeking approval for the clear cutting of 14,281 mature trees including special species oaks. One should note that the project is owned by prominent Democrats. When the City of Calistoga approved the clear cutting of 8,185 mature trees and approximately 1,500 more for the roads of a luxury resort spearheaded by the nephew of one of the most prominent Democrat senators, the county never once submitted a comment of concern during the Timber Harvest Plan review period.
With the Walt Ranch approval, some 30,000 trees will have been sacrificed over the past few years and more than an estimated 100,000 will fall to accommodate projects already in the pipeline. The county has yet to give any signal that its insatiable appetite for winery growth and environmental degradation is waning.
This flies in the face of the efforts of the Napa Valley Land Trust, which owing to the generosity of our citizens has saved 57,000 acres and hundreds of thousands of trees. It also flies in the face of the U.S. Forest Service report that California has lost 102 million trees during the drought - 62 million alone in 2016.
The Forest Service "with public safety as its most pressing concern" has reprioritized $43 million of taxpayer funds to enact "safety-focused forest restorations."
Once again, the county's piecemeal evaluation of development impacts allowing it to render them "less than significant" one at a time fails to assign environmental benefit value to trees independent of any project. The curve of carbon emissions due to the unfettered increase of development is rising while the one of carbon sequestration from deforestation is falling. When these two lines intersect we will have reached an environmental crisis point of no return. County policies seem to consider the public safety impacts of deforestation as a mere nuisance to development. Shouldn't Democrats be the ones calling for action?
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The unfettered growth of wineries attract ever more tourists and hotels which create thousands of the lowest paying jobs filled by commuters, exacerbating traffic congestion and the rise of carbon emissions, not to mention the degradation of the collective quality of life. But even these workers are finding commuting not worth their investment in time and expense. Busing them, as the City of Calistoga attempted, was discontinued due to lack of ridership. In the meantime, providing meaningful affordable housing for this increasingly skewed economy has been rendered a pipe dream. The winners are corporations and wealthy foreign investors who keep gobbling up the small family wineries which cannot resist their lucrative offers. Big business consolidation is happening before our eyes, eliminating competition and the romance of the wine country to the detriment of the consumer.
The county's forgiveness policies towards winery permit offenders circumvents the CEQA protections because these violations are grandfathered and are thus exempt from subsequent CEQA review adding ill-gotten value to these properties which are then flipped for profit with the county's blessings. Even worse, such policies fail to insure that grape sourcing violations are not finding their way into mislabeled wines in addition to facilitating an unfair business playing field for those playing by the rules. Meantime, violators are protected on a secret list at the county. What happened to the Democrat values of fairness and transparency?
Napa is one of the counties which has refused to observe the half-mile pesticide-free drift-radius around schools as many other counties have. This, in the face of our highest cancer incidents in the state among children and the second highest among adults. Yet the county approved the Syar mining expansion, close to a hospital and several schools even though its dust generating operations contain known carcinogens. Napa County has also failed to initiate programs for the reduction of widely suspected herbicide carcinogens. Instead, they hide behind the argument that poison "safe levels" have yet to be established so as to merit policy. Cancer rates be damned.
Increasingly, the unsuspecting and uninvolved public is gaining awareness, one which eventually will express itself into the political landscape. Sadly and most probably, in irrational ways.