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Measure C: When the Powers That Be will not act

Measure C: When the Powers That Be will not act

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To best understand the brawl about Measure C, we need to crack open “The Big Golden Book of Human Foibles.” In that wonderful old reference work, between “Selfies” and “Spandex” you’ll find the section called “Self-Serving Rationalization.” The first entry there is illuminating: “The biggest obstacle to a person’s understanding a fact arises when their financial gain depends on their not understanding it.”

This is the glaringly obvious reason for the wine industry’s general opposition to C: the measure removes some of their options for huge financial benefits, options that would be exercised inevitably at the expense of the environment.

Why would this industry, one that is not accustomed to having any of its options taken off the table, want to look at Measure C? Yes, it has tolerated regulation, but most often after a disaster, such as 1991’s hillside ordinance, put in place after substantial chunks of vineyard took a dive into Bell Canyon Reservoir.

But since the Ag Preserve went into effect 50 years ago, there has been no sweeping, long-range plan proposed by them or by county government, in response to the new realities of climate change and the threat to Napa’s water sources.

Why would the wine industry and its local government operatives do anything but fight to retain the open-ended right to clear-cut 40 percent of virtually any given 160-acre hillside oak watershed parcel? And they’re fighting, all right, though their weapons seem to have been fashioned by PR people who graduated from Trump University with a degree in Shaky Ethics.

You’ve no doubt heard the “arguments.” Measure C is vague and misleading! Bad for the Ag Preserve! Will cost taxpayers! Will keep firefighters from doing their jobs! My personal favorite is: a “no” vote will send a clear message to county officials that something needs to be done!

Right. Just like complaining about the risotto will encourage the chef to offer it every night.

Not to mix too many metaphors, but it’s all a nonsense salad, with an occasional cherry tomato of half-truth tossed in for color. And rest assured you will be forced back to the salad bar often, between now and June 5. They won’t leave you alone.

The huge money to be made from hillside vineyards will be reflected in the money chucked into the “No” spin campaign and into the campaign coffers of county officials who get on board. I’m sure you didn’t miss the elaborate front-page fold-over advertisement in this newspaper’s edition of Sunday, May 6.

Here’s a fun fact: The entire county, especially the city of Napa, is talking up its wave of growth, geared toward both tourism and wine production. The county estimates there will be another 200 wineries in the valley by 2030, making it possible at that rate to have close to 1,000 by 2050. You can understand why, in that scenario, planting more vineyards looks vital, assuming they don’t figure out a way to make wine out of Castello di Amorosa visitor passes.

So the plan is to build lots of hotels, and lots of wineries with hillside vineyards helping support them, all using water resources whose quality and quantity are endangered even now.

This is the grim situation that Napa Valley faces, and that the opponents of Measure C want to obscure. They don’t want to stop the growth, even when it becomes a cancer that acts to kill the host organism. They assure us they’ll get around to controlling vineyard plantings and growth -- sometime.

Just because they’ve done nothing for decades, other than changing the General Plan in 2008 to include “marketing” in the definition of agricultural activities, doesn’t mean they won’t get serious -- sometime. Just because the Agricultural Protection Advisory Committee established in 2015 was just another stalemated attempt at meaningful growth containment doesn’t mean they won’t do something -- sometime.

It’s not that wine industry people and politicians against Measure C don’t care about Napa. Certainly they must. But that concern is distorted by the natural desire to expand their businesses, their tax base, and/or their political clout. These people love Napa not wisely but too well, as some obscure English guy once said. They care about Napa, but it ends up looking like the way Wall Street loved the hot 2008 mortgage market, the way BP loved the Gulf of Mexico before the Deepwater Horizon oil spill.

The enthusiasm is real, but because of a fatal, very human disposition to excess, the results are inevitably disastrous.

Don’t stand on the sidelines when there is a chance to do the right thing for Napa Valley now. Ballot initiatives were created for this very situation, i.e., when the Powers That Be cannot or will not act.

Seize this opportunity and vote 'yes' on Measure C.

Paul Moser


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