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Measure C

We agree with almost all of what the backers of Measure C say.

It is time to take a hard look at the current regulations protecting the streams and trees in the hills surrounding the valley. Those forests and streams feed the Napa River and recharge the reservoirs and aquifers that supply the cities and vineyards on the Valley floor. Those trees are not just scenic treasures, but also a line of defense against the looming menace of climate change.

Just as we did not wait for the start of urban sprawl before enacting the Ag Preserve in 1968, so too we should not wait until there is a tree-clearing gold rush in our back country, or until our aquifers begin to fail, before protecting the national treasure that is Napa County.

Where we do disagree with the backers of Measure C is in the notion that we have exhausted all possible avenues to protect the watersheds before reaching for the dangerously blunt and inflexible weapon of a ballot measure.

It is a rare piece of legislation that does not turn out to have loose ends, regulatory hiccups and unintended consequences that need to be cleared up later.

Legislators are constantly fine tuning laws to make them work better in practice.

Make no mistake: Measure C is an enormously complicated and consequential piece of legislation and it is absolutely sure to have many wrinkles and consequences that need to be field tested in order to see if they work properly.

Yet this measure was drafted without any of the usual steps that a major piece of legislation undergoes: hearings, public input, and expert vetting, from both outside specialists and staff that would be responsible for interpreting and enforcing the law. Even a minor tweak to Measure C would require a whole new ballot initiative in some future election.

We believe it is premature to take such a draconian and risky step.

This legislation is, therefore, the right idea in the wrong vehicle. On this basis alone, we urge voters to reject Measure C.

At the same time, we urge the Board of Supervisors to see Measure C for what it is: A legitimate cry of frustration by many county residents who fear that their leaders are not acting to protect their way of life and their environment.

The board should therefore take robust and unmistakable action to examine the rules governing development on our hillsides. There is already a promising move in that direction, with a joint study by the county and the city of Napa to examine development in the watershed that feeds the Milliken reservoir. The board should expand that to examine the entire county above the Valley floor to make sure we are protecting our resources in a forward-looking way.

If, in two years, we have not seen unmistakable signs of action from the supervisors, the editorial board may very well join Measure C’s current backers in supporting more drastic action by the voters.

Measure D

Nobody enjoys the clatter of helicopters, particularly in places of serenity such as Napa Valley’s rural districts.

County regulations already rule out helicopter-based tours to wineries, but they do allow for “personal” heliports and aircraft landing strips, provided the Board of Supervisors grants a use permit. While there are some heliports around the county, including at the two hospitals, none has ever been approved for personal use, although one application is pending before the supervisors now.

Measure D would remove the possibility of personal heliports, except near the current airport, though it would leave in place regulations that allow for landings and takeoffs during emergency operations.

The measure would also tighten up the language on when helicopters can be used in agriculture, though that use would still be allowed.

The opponents of measure D have speculated on a wide range of unintended consequences, some of them seemingly rather far-fetched. But they do raise the valid point that making such a change through the initiative process will lock in whatever unintended consequences there may be, and the law may only be changed by a new vote of the people.

We are not adverse to the change proposed in Measure D, but aviation is a complicated legal area, and this would be, as far as we know, the first such ban in the state, possibly in the whole country.

We believe the idea of banning heliports, as simple and appealing as it is, deserves deeper scrutiny through the regular legislative process. We urge a no vote on Measure D, but we also urge the supervisors to put the matter on their agenda and take a close look at a possible ban through legislation.

Regional Measure 3

The Bay Area-wide measure would raise the tolls on seven of the area’s major bridges by $3 in phases through 2025, financing more than $4 billion-worth of road and transit improvements. Napa County alone would get an estimated $20 million for improvements on Highway 29, including a new interchange with Highway 121. It would also stand to benefit from some of the hundreds of millions set aside for mass transit and bike trail projects.

We like the idea of this money – Napa County certainly needs it – but we were concerned about the philosophical implications of placing the costs on the captive audience of commuters forced to use the bridges. Road improvements in Napa and other counties will likely do little to improve the condition of the very people paying the most.

In the end, we reluctantly agreed that the region’s roads and transit systems simply must have more funding. We urge a yes vote on RM 3, though we don’t feel good about it.

The Napa Valley Register Editorial Board consists of Publisher Brenda Speth, Editor Sean Scully, and public members Cindy Webber, Ed Shenk, Mary Jean Mclaughlin and Chris Hammaker.