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Activism in Napa County is at an all-time high. The ever-growing awareness that the balance of power between the wine industry and the citizens that live here continues to fuel desired expectations that our Board of Supervisors will take real and substantive action to remedy quality of life issues.

Here is a story of a citizen group in Angwin who persisted, and, as a result, 864 acres of forest on Howell Mountain are now in a conservation trust.

Recently, after several years of controversy over Napa County watershed development, Pacific Union College placed 864 acres of forested land into a conservation easement after working with the Napa County Land Trust. As the new PUC president, Bob Cushman said in a recent interview, “ ….the forest is an integral part of the education and student life experiences at Pacific Union College. I am very pleased to see this forest preserved and managed in perpetuity.”

This attitude is new and long overdue, and the story behind this is long and circuitous.

Following the passage of Measure J in 1991, 12 different areas in unincorporated Napa County, referred to as “urban bubbles,” were excluded from the protections afforded from this citizen’s initiative. Later in ’09, the Board of Supervisors acted to change those areas to be consistent with Measure J, but in Angwin because of a prospective residential subdivision planned on PUC land from developer Triad, this mountain top hamlet was left vulnerable.

Save Rural Angwin (SRA) was formed in 2006 as a political action committee focused on protecting the rural character of Angwin. SRA participated in the General Plan update process and began work to convince PUC that they should be preserving their lands, not selling them to a developer. Little did the members of SRA know that this exhaustive fight would go on for a decade.

Over the ensuing years, SRA was able to provide pressure that helped reduce the subdivision from 1,000 homes down to 591 and then down to 380. Eventually the project stalled out as the general economy declined. However in 2009, PUC re-commenced work towards this eco-village.

In 2012, SRA became aware that PUC had once again entered into an exclusive development contract to build hundreds of homes atop Howell Mountain in Angwin. All the while SRA was told no plans were being made to develop. SRA was left with only one alternative to stop the plan: file a legal challenge in the form of a citizen’s initiative. Measure U went on the ballot and was ultimately defeated at the polls. As in most cases, big money and falsehoods prevailed from the campaign. “Unfair and unnecessary” were the college’s campaign mantra all the while stating untrue facts that they were not engaging in development.

In the last Board of Supervisors in which Supervisor Keith Caldwell was on the board, SRA with the assistance of Supervisor Diane Dillon, the “urban bubble” was rezoned to Ag Watershed, which crushed any future housing development plans for the college. This was a direct result from the years of proactive work from SRA and the lack of truthfulness from PUC’s then-administration.

Now with a new president of the college, a new attitude of inclusiveness and outreach to SRA who represents the community, the threat is gone. The new administration has gone so far as to thank SRA, formally and informally, for fighting against an ill-thought development and for helping foster new open lines of communication with residents.

Because the new attitude from PUC has brought about remarkable changes with faculty, staff and students; and coupled with the work from SRA, many more people have been interested in helping PUC accomplish this wonderful goal of forest preservation. It’s a new day in Angwin, and the persistence and determination over years of service to the community has paid off.

The collaboration of the community and the college is evident in Angwin. Together, management of Howell Mountain’s forests is of the highest priority and initial work is underway to help protect the community from wildfire.

Mike Hackett, chairman

Save Rural Angwin

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