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In response to two recent letters ("The roots of our local economy" by Linda Evans and "In support of following the rules" by Amy Taylor), the following comments are offered for consideration and clarification.

The environmental study process on the Walt Ranch project is quite complicated. Linda Evans makes the following point, “It is important to note that environmental experts have done rigorous studies and concluded that there are NO foreseeable negative impacts that would result from the vineyards.”

In fact, the experts do not agree that there are NO foreseeable negative impacts. On the issue of water for example, the study done for the Walt Ranch EIR was done by the same “expert” that did the Carneros study. The “expert” was wrong on that project. Experts hired by those who may suffer from negative impacts in regards to the availability of water do not agree that the hydrology report is adequate.

Other areas of the Walt Ranch EIR are also contested by other experts. Other experts offer differing views than the views of experts hired by the developer. The environmental document is well over 1,000 pages so it is not really as simple as Ms. Evans makes it sound.

Ms. Evans also makes the point that “The proposal has included a water monitoring plan….” This is simply untrue in the case of Circle Oaks. There is no monitoring plan or proposed mitigations offered to assure the community of Circle Oaks that their water supply is protected. Is it unreasonable to expect the water supply of a community created by the Board of Supervisors be protected? Is not the job of the Board of Supervisors to protect the interests of neighbors also?

It is possible the residents of the Carneros area have an opinion on this. After all, Carneros residents depend on water trucked into their community because the developer’s expert was wrong -- the same expert hired to do the Walt Ranch study. I wonder if Ms. Evans would be so supportive if there was the possibility that she might lose something of significant value if the experts were wrong.

In regard to Amy Taylor’s letter, Ms. Taylor asks, “If these rules have been followed, why is this still going on? If the rules have not been followed, why is this still going on? The land owners have either followed the rules or they have not. How could this be so hard?”

What is currently taking place with regard to the Walt Ranch project is a “playing out” of the rules that seem to be so valued by Ms. Taylor. The land owners are not the only people affected by the project, therefore the rules are not just for the land owners. Others may also be affected and they have rules to follow in protecting their interests. Are these rules not important? We have heard a great deal about the rights of the land owners. Don’t others affected by this project also have rights? And should it not be the case that their rights are also protected by “rules?”

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It might also be noted the rules are not as simple as Ms. Taylor assumes them to be. It seems the environmental study process is designed to lead to court. Those of us concerned about negative impacts are not happy with this process either. However, the owners of the Walt Ranch are real estate developers. They are very familiar with the process so they do know how this works. They know it is not just a matter of following a few simple “rules.” It is a process and what is happening now is a normal part of that process. In other words, we are following the rules.

It is important to note here that hearings before the Board of Supervisors are a normal outcome of following the rules. Unfortunately, one of the three hearings has been scheduled a day or two before Thanksgiving. Even after being informed experts and lawyers had family plans -- as they would be expected to have -- the hearing date remains unchanged.

It seems that even while following the rules, the input of concerned people with will be blunted by the authority the county wields. So if hearings are scheduled at times when people cannot attend, then one must ask how important the process is to the county. Is the apparent lack of interest an indication that court is a foregone conclusion? Unfortunately, this outcome is determined by the rules that are valued so highly. And the rules are for all of us, not just the developer.

David Heitzman

Napa

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