Oh, those pesky property rights! Didn’t we finally get rid of them somewhere back in the '60s? Or was it the '70s?
No, property rights are not dead yet, and therein lies the problem with Measure C. In fact, the Ag Preserve, the initiative process, due process, property rights, taxes, democracy and the basic values America was founded upon are all mangled together into the issues of Measure C. Let’s examine the fundamental injustice of Measure C.
The Ag Preserve came about because in the mid-1960s California started taxing property at its highest and best value. Instead of a 5-acre orchard being taxed as such, it was now taxed as a subdivided parcel capable of 15 homes or more. The high taxes were literally forcing folks to sell their properties in order to pay the taxes. Here was a huge incentive to convert farmland to housing developments.
To avoid this and protect Napa’s goal that agriculture is the highest and best use of the land, the leadership of Napa County created a work-around to this threat by using the new Williamson Act and in 1968 the Board of Supervisors created the nation’s first Agricultural Preserve. Napa farmers gave up the right to subdivide into small parcels for protection from insanely high taxation.
For more than 10 years, the California State Legislature was dismissive of vocal and organized criticism of these taxes until Proposition 13 rolled back how property was assessed. Proposition 13 is a classic example of why California has the initiative process. Initiatives are considered a safety valve, the court of the last resort, for when government is unresponsive to the people’s wishes.
Proposition 13 did not take anything from the people or any subset of the people. Prop. 13 limited the ability of the State of California to tax the people. This is “direct democracy” by the people, unlike our normal “representative democracy,” which is the American system.
Our founders were wary of direct democracy and wanted to avoid it because it allows a majority of voters to trample the rights of minorities. James Madison was especially worried about the “Tyranny of the Majority” and pushed hard to make the new government of America a “representative democracy.”
Direct democracy can have a very dark side to it when the majority puts their own interests above those in the minority. Imagine three wolves and a sheep deciding what to have for dinner. The sheep objects to the selection, but the wolves console the sheep that it was a fair election -- it was democracy after all -- and the sheep lost.
Measure C is no different in principle than all previous historical oppressions of minority groups. If Measure C passes, the majority will take property rights from a minority for their own benefit. Unlike Prop. 13 where the farmers got tax relief for putting their land in the Ag Preserve, Measure C just takes the property rights from the oak woodlands owners and gives nothing in return.
The rationale for Measure C is to protect the oak woodlands and watershed as a source for more and cleaner water. In Mike Hackett’s Nov. 28, 2017 letter to the editor, he states “We will be sharing the science …” that led to creating Measure C."
I attended the March 12 Measure C Forum promising to “focus on the science” that underlies the Measure. Instead, the forum was a love fest for Measure C, and did not provide any science to justify the measure. An arborist is not an expert in silviculture, which deals with the science of managing our forests; for that we needed a forester and none was in attendance.
Dr. Comendant, an expert on watersheds, provided no science that justifies larger stream setbacks and she refused to support the claim that there’d be more water if Measure C passed. So, Mike, we’re still waiting for that science.
With the just released “Napa County Groundwater Sustainability Annual Report – Water Year 2017,” the very foundation for justifying Measure C crumbled. This scientific report states unequivocally that the Napa Valley Groundwater Basin is stable and full and has been stable over the last several decades.
The problematic area of the Milliken-Sarco-Tulucay subarea is reported to have stabilized and now has increasing water levels due in part to new county policies.
We should also remember that the Napa River was delisted by the State Water Board for nutrients in 2014. The Napa River is cleaner today than it has been in the last 75 years.
To Mike Hackett and Jim Wilson, the proponents of Measure C, I issue this challenge:
1) Explain why it is morally acceptable to take property rights from the owners of the oak woodlands to advance your personal agenda.
2) Provide the science you promised that justifies Measure C.