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The Oak Woodlands Initiative is a misguided measure that will have the unintended (or, looking at the list of supporters, intended) consequence of ensuring the Napa Valley Dream will be accessible only to wealthy, landed-owning vintners or large corporations who can afford to pay top dollar for Napa vineyard land.

The desire to limit the amount of plantable acreage seems designed to directly benefit existing landowners who undoubtedly expect to see the value of their land assets and price per ton of Cabernet Sauvignon skyrocket. Never before has “green” seemed so greedy.

I moved to the Napa Valley a decade ago with the hopes of buying into the Napa dream. I purchased a 12-acre parcel in the ag watershed and three years and $40,000 worth of studies and fees later, received a permit to plant 5 acres of wine grapes. I naively walked into the process thinking I would have a 9-acre vineyard planted within two years.

County regulations for issuing Erosion Control Plans are restrictive and strictly enforced.

As a liberal and environmentalist, I accepted that this process was in the best interest of the land and community, though at times, it seemed excessively so. “That pile of rocks on the edge of the property, that’s a ‘historical artifact’ so add a 50-foot setback.”

“That gully over there, that’s a blue line stream, another 50 feet of setback on either side.”

Erosion Control permits are denied, or modified, and new and more studies are ordered until the development is found to sufficiently conserve streams, ground water, oaks, native species, prevent soil loss and more. The process is so time-consuming and expensive, that by the time my entitlements were secured, I did not have sufficient funds or access to capital to develop the vineyard.

As an unmarried, 35-year old woman with no income sources aside from what I thought was a lucrative salary at a corporate job, perhaps I should have known better. I sold my land and watched my dream fade away.

I see the Oak Woodlands Initiative as an attempt to block local families, farmers and rugged individuals from participating in the Napa Dream, as small parcels in the Ag Watershed are the last places regular folks with wine grape dreams can still afford to buy.

Surely, looking at the current approval process for new vineyard development and tightening the existing regulations that are shown to not do enough to protect our resources would be a more sensible approach than summarily prohibiting all future development.

This initiative will ensure that those who got theirs years ago will continue to see their bankrolls fatten, as the rest of us are left working for them. Is this initiative “green,” or greedy? Personally, I think the latter.

Leslie Caccamese


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