The challenge of making an educated decision on measures O and P in Tuesday's election may seem daunting to Napa County voters.
Hundreds of thousands of dollars are driving campaigns for and against both measures, and fervor surrounding the proposed laws has created an atmosphere among the partisans bordering on hysteria.
Three distinct views have been promoted by local groups: An environmental group supports voting yes on both; a broad coalition that includes major wine industry groups and some environmentalists endorses Measure P, but opposes Measure O; two groups, one composed of small landowners and property rights advocates, the other representing local farmers, oppose both measures.
From a topical viewpoint, measures O and P appear similar in that both deal with setbacks — or buffer zones — around streams and waterways in Napa County. In spite of this striking similarity, there is much that distinguishes Measure O from Measure P.
Measure P was originally passed as a result of the recommendations of a 15-member Napa River Watershed Task Force. The task force was assembled by the Board of Supervisors to examine local conservation and sustainable land use issues.
The group was composed of individuals with diverse political views, from property rights advocates to environmentalists.
After more than two dozen meetings held over a 21-month period, the group released recommendations to supervisors that included re-writing Napa County stream setbacks regulations from 1991.
Existing stream setback requirements range from 35 feet to 150 feet, depending on the slope of the land near the stream bank. Where the slope is less than one percent, the setback is 35 feet; where the slope is between one and five percent the setback is 45 feet; and so on up to 150-foot setbacks for land surrounding streams where the slope is 60 to 70 percent.
To revise these stream setbacks, the Napa County Conservation, Development and Planning Department hired Jones and Stokes, an environmental consulting firm. A draft of Measure P was first released on July 10, 2002, and reviewed by an oversight committee examining the recommendations of the Watershed Task Force.
After five meetings and numerous revisions, the oversight committee sent a revised draft of what would become Measure P to the Napa County Planning Commission and then the Board of Supervisors. In total, some 30 public hearings were held in discussion of Measure P.
The intent of the measure to be voted in Tuesday version is to regulate setbacks around streams in order to control the amount of sediment, or soil, that is washed away during storms, usually into nearby waterways.
A report by the San Francisco Regional Water Quality Control Board suggests that high sediment levels are causing high mortality rates in the eggs of salmon and steelhead that annually migrate up the Napa River from the ocean to reproduce.
In Measure P the setbacks apply 100-foot to 150-foot setbacks to Class I streams, 75-foot to 150-foot setbacks to Class II streams, and 25 feet to Class III streams. There are no setbacks on Class IV, or manmade streams. It allows landowners who complete restoration plans for the areas around streams to receive reduced setbacks.
These reduced setbacks can include 75-foot setbacks from Class I streams and 50-foot setbacks from Class II streams, at the discretion of the director of the Napa County Conservation, Development and Planning department. In addition, setbacks can be reduced to a minimum of 50-feet on class I and II streams, and exemptions can be obtained on a site-by-site basis, according to the Napa County Web site.
Stream classes are defined in Measure P, but left up to the discretion of the director of the conservation, development and planning department to decide based on the criteria provided. Class I streams are defined to include perennial, seasonal or intermittent streams where fish are sometimes present, or where habitat to include fish migration or spawning is included. Class II streams are defined in roughly the same way, but must only include habitat for aquatic non-fish vertebrates, or aquatic benthic macro-invertebrates, not fish.
Class III streams must have a defined top of bank and a width to depth ratio of 5 to 1 or less.
Under Measure P, residential development setbacks match up with the current setbacks under the 1991 conservation regulations of 35 feet to 150 feet, and apply only to class I and II streams. Class III or IV streams are exempt.
The ordinance lists the following activities as allowed within the setback: Ongoing agriculture, use of existing roads and trails, re-building of existing structures, and others.
Exemptions are provided for streamside crossings, fire reduction activities, abatement of public nuisances, replanting of vineyards, orchards and row crops, and other activities.
Critics of the measure, which include the Napa Valley Land Stewards Alliance, say that the measure exempts vineyards that have already planted vines in areas that would otherwise be subject to setbacks. They add that the measure mainly affects small property owners.
"What they're really talking about is new vineyards," said Mike Rodrigues, chair of the Land Stewards. "The opposition loves to throw in commercial … and commercial means ag" in lands zone in Napa county.
Measure P "should be as perfect as they can make it, not subject to the whims of the planning director. In the ordinance, the director is given huge power. I'm very devoted to keeping arbitrary power out of the hands of the government," he said.
Proponents of the measure note that Measure P is amendable by a simple majority vote of the supervisors, and that it sunsets in two years unless otherwise extended. The ordinance prohibits rural land owners from three primary activities in stream setbacks: Cutting a road, and developing new agricultural and commercial uses of the land.
The proponents include a majority of the Board of Supervisors, Congressman Mike Thompson, and all four local trade groups representing grapegrowers and wineries.
"It's something that we reached through consensus," said Diane Dillon, supervisor of District 3, who pointed out that the programmatic environmental impact report that will examine all of the county's watershed will be complete in two years and will be available for more site-specific setbacks.
She said Measure P allows for some environmental protection of streams even as more detailed data is developed, and that the new information will inform future changes to county law.
"It doesn't mean that you don't have any information while you're waiting around for the protection," she said.
Measure O was drafted by the Watershed Protection Association, a local environmental group, in 2002 in what proponents say is an attempt to "protect the trees." After collecting the signatures of nearly 6,000 registered Napa county voters, the measure qualified for the March 2 ballot.
If voters pass Measure O, it will prohibit logging for commercial purposes in specified zones. Commercial purposes means any sales, barter or exchange of wood products, but also includes removal of trees for conversion of the land to recreational, agricultural, residential or commercial purposes.
This includes "no logging zones" extending 325 feet from the centerline of Class I and Class II streams, which can mean intermittent streams that "provide habitat for non-fish aquatic species, including invertebrates."
For Class II streams, which includes ephemeral streams with defined banks that have the capacity to transport sediment to a class I or II stream, logging is prohibited in setbacks that extend 175 feet from the center of the stream. For man made ditches, or class IV streams, there is a 50-foot setback in which logging is prohibited.
Measure O also applies to areas where there are no streams. It prohibits logging in the following areas: a 75-foot setback from any seep or spring and a 1,000-foot setback from any wetland area. It also prohibits loggers from taking timber within 1,000 feet from a neighbor's residence.
There are some exemptions to these rules. For instance, logging is permitted within 150 feet of any existing structure or proposed residential structure on the date the ordinance takes effect, within 25 feet from septic systems and 10 feet from driveways.
Violations would result in fines as high as $25,000 per day.
Critics of the measure, which include Ed Matovcik, chief of staff for Congressman Mike Thompson, have faulted it for being too extreme and pointed out that it can only be amended by a vote of the people. Matovcik has also focused on the fact that the measure was drafted by a group of private individuals outside of the public hearing process.
The last point has been a bone of contention to the members of the WPA, who claim that they held various meetings with members of the wine industry and other individuals in the community as they put the initiative together. Gary Margadant, a spokesman for the WPA, listed a number of individuals from wineries that were consulted during the drafting stage of Measure O.
Chris Malan, a member of the WPA's steering committee, said that the measure was based on the science that was used in the Northwest Forest Plan, which was compiled by the Forest Ecosystem Management Assessment Team. FEMAT was a team of scientists from various government agencies including the U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, and Environmental Protection Agency, assembled by President Clinton that aims to preserve habitat for the northern spotted owl, among other goals.
Margadant said that erosion control plans, which are currently required for new vineyard projects, have failed to protect the watershed from erosion.
"We just don't feel that the current regiment is enough to protect the health of the valley," said Margadant.
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