Measure C states that it will protect our water, our streams and our oak woodlands. But will it?
The measure is based on an initiative written behind the scenes by Mike Hackett and Jim Wilson. Totaling 18 pages, the initiative paints a bleak, rather apocalyptic picture of the state of the mostly hillside lands that comprise about 80 percent of our 507,000-acre county. Most of these lands are located the agricultural watershed zoning district, mostly private lands, the balance of some 120,000 acres being public land.
The measure calls for what it states are: 1) Additional setting back of mostly agricultural land uses from streams and “wetlands”, and 2) What it feels would amount to protections for oak woodlands that aren’t already being addressed.
I served 28 years as the District Conservationist (DC) for Napa County for the Natural Resources Conservation Service and continue to serve as a private consulting environmental planner in my semi-retirement.
During my tenure as DC, I had the opportunity to work extensively on both land stewardship, (voluntary) and regulatory conservation programs that addressed a whole host of environmental issues. In those capacities, I participated in numerous watershed studies and research projects including water quality protection, fisheries enhancement, sustainable agriculture training, and soil erosion control projects.
The goal always was to assess the need, find the best science-based treatments, and then exhaust non-regulatory solutions before turning to regulation. When it became apparent that the county needed hillside regulations to control soil erosion and protect water quality, a small group of us approached the county planning commission and the board of supervisors in 1990 with study results and recommendations. The board adopted the Napa County Conservation Regulations in 1991. Over the next decade and more, those regulations evolved into a program that addressed the full range of environmental issues associated with land conversions. Today, it significantly and rigorously protects oak woodlands, streams, wetlands, groundwater, and a whole host of environmentally sensitive land types.
Measure C claims it is needed to force county government’s (and more importantly, fellow county residents’) hand in getting the job done. It largely targets agricultural lands, which based on 10 years of study by the Regional Water Quality Control Board contributes a total of 26.4 percent of soil sediment to the Napa River.
Measure C does not address the other lands and uses that are the source of 73 percent-plus of water quality impairment. Stream setback distances that Measure C establishes are all over the map, following no scientific logic. The proponents also fail to state or consider that our existing regulations already require rigorous land use stream setbacks, which in many cases are actually larger than Measure C’s. Strange logic, lacking science, and no additional water quality protection.
Under Measure C’s stipulations, when an arcanely-calculated total of 795 more acres of “oak woodland” are converted to other land uses, (mostly agricultural) even the removal of two oak trees on a parcel would require extensive studies, and permits. Requiring a rigid standard of three trees planted for each removed, there is no accounting of whether additional trees may actually be creating a denser wildfire fuel load, or overly-dense, poor wildlife habitat.
The wildfires that burned over 60,000 acres of our watersheds were devastating. According to Greg Giusti, emeritus University of California oak woodlands expert, tens of millions of oak trees were likely severely damaged or killed. Tree loss aside, the devastating damages to our watershed lands will literally take decades to heal. Do we really need to divert our attention to doubling or even tripling permit requirements or should we attend to the real source of oak woodland loss?
Another important fact that voters need to be aware of, if they already are not: Numerous voluntary land stewardship programs are already in place, (and working quite well) providing oak woodland protection, environmental enhancement, and water quality protection. The Land Trust of Napa County’s Conservation Easement program, the Napa County RCD’s “Acorns to Oaks” and LandSmart programs, Napa Green, and a number of other educational/ cost-sharing programs are available to many county property owners and are well-used and appreciated. Don’t forget the Napa County Parks and Open Space District. With a little more funding support to boost its already stellar work, all county residents will have the chance to hike and recreate in our woodlands and unique hillside landscapes and vistas.
Voters should rest assured that a NO vote on Measure C is not a vote against clean water and healthy oak woodland watersheds. Voter rejection of Measure C will send the message that county government and all appropriate stakeholders should formalize the kind of discussions that need to take place to 1) Determine the actual need for additional watershed protections, and 2) If needed, formulate coherent, meaningful protections into county code- the correct way.