Attending the Napa Vision 2050 meeting on Wednesday evening, March 2, I was impressed with the accomplishments of what can only be described as a movement.
Napa Vision 2050 was formed a year ago when President Dan Mufson called together several citizen groups who were disturbed about what was happening in their own neighborhoods. He thought 20 people would gather at that first meeting at the Napa Valley Marriott & Spa; more than 50 of us crowded the room. Wednesday evening I counted more than 100 in attendance. The ranks of the disenchanted are growing.
In a short time, Napa Vision 2050 has made an impact. It has only begun.
The organization is now composed of representatives from more than a dozen neighborhood and environmental groups who see a pattern in their individual issues that affects our whole county. This pattern is one in which the economic interests of the wine and hospitality industries drive the decisions of our county planners, planning commissioners, and Board of Supervisors.
Despite the rhetoric, decisions being made have a cumulative negative impact our water supply and watersheds, our air quality, traffic, and the changing fabric of our community.
All these issues take a back seat when time and again deep-pocketed wine and hospitality interests influence our elected and appointed government officials decisions. Permits are handed out despite violations, safety concerns on roadways, and larger health issues (witness the silica, cancer-producing emissions of Syar and the fact that Napa County has the highest cancer rates in California. The Board of Supervisors has yet to take any action on this alarming situation.)
Amazingly, large event centers have even been finessed to be described as an "accessory use" of agriculture, effectively commercializing our "protected" agricultural lands!
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It is not that wineries and hotels are an important part of the economy here. No one argues this. But they are only a part of the social fabric. Their wealth is on the backs of the rest of us: most of their workers are low-paid and many cannot afford to live here.
They have to commute, and along with tourists, fill our highways. The incursion of these event centers — which are deemed necessary by these investors for their direct marketing— impacts our watersheds and water supply. It changes climate. Cutting trees to plant vineyards contributes to conditions of drought.
We cannot count on the economic needs and demands of these industries to consider the larger whole. In fact, the presence of wine and hospitality industries' special interests degraded the Agricultural Protection Advisory Committee (APAC) recommendations being adopted by the Board of Supervisors, even after hours of a supposedly democratic process over the last summer APAC was appointed by the Board of Supervisors from 17 stakeholders, business, and environmental groups in the Napa Valley to make recommendations that would guide the Planning Commission addressing problem issues around permitting and violations in wineries and vineyards in our county.
Napa Vision 2050 is a group working to give all of us a voice in what happens in our valley. In 2050, it is predicted by the state Natural Resources Department that the climate will be 2-4 degrees Fahrenheit warmer and, should this occur, 60 percent of our vines will not viable. It is time we insist our governing officials not be bought by the financial interests of the wealthy few —who are increasingly outside investors— but consider the whole of us. We have to put our environment in all its aspects, first.
We are interconnected. The decisions being made are decisions that may bring more money for a very few for a little while, but they open the economic divide and degrade our water, our environment and our social fabric. Visit the Napa Vision 2050 website and consider becoming a part of this movement to make our county government one representing the all the people.