Napa County’s Agricultural Preserve has been aptly characterized as the goose that laid the golden eggs. Certainly anyone lucky or shrewd enough to own land within the Preserve has done well over the years.

Arguably, handsome benefits also have accrued to most county residents, whether or not they own land, within or outside of the Preserve itself. Now, however, it seems that the arrow to the heart of the goose is the county’s unfortunate decision to stretch the definition of agriculture beyond recognition, to include not only wine production facilities, but also tasting rooms and “ancillary uses” up to and including souvenir shops, concert halls, wedding chapels, and “event centers,” all of which require hardscape, parking lots and other impermeable surfaces onsite, to say nothing of the implications for increased traffic on our roads and highways.

With but few exceptions, use permit applications for these “agricultural” uses are rubber-stamped by the powers-that-be. Of course, each new permit approval creates a need for more grapes, of which in most cases 85 percent must be grown in Napa County.

One wonders to what extent the County-of-origin requirements are monitored and enforced, but it is clear that county policy creates an increasing demand for more Napa County grapes. In the face of that increasing demand, Measure C now proposes, in effect, to restrict grape supply. Something is wrong with this picture.

The laws of supply and demand also provide a perspective on the list of grapegrowers who have gone on record in support of Measure C. No doubt this august assemblage arrived at their positions through only the purest, most altruistic environmental motives.

But is it unfair to point out that these folks are the “haves” of the industry? If grape supplies are essentially fixed, will not the inexorably increasing demand guarantee them increasing revenue?

The proposed new setbacks are misleading and unfair. The Devil is in the details:

-- The proposed setbacks work at cross-purposes to those of the current Conservation Regulations, which require wider setbacks in steeper areas. Apparently, the more restrictive of the two standards would apply.

-- Most Class III streams would tend to be on steeper terrain; the proposed 25-foot setback would likely be overruled by the old slope-based restriction.

-- As virtually all “Class I” streams are already in developed areas—either with vineyard or urban/suburban uses—the 125-foot restrictions would be mostly moot.

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-- Multi-jurisdictional stream classification discussions (Class I, II, or III?) are frequently fraught with heated philosophical arguments and inter-agency turf wars. The current setback system provides more certainty and fairness.

-- The proposed 125-foot wetland setback provides no environmental benefit over the current 50-foot standard; rather it, in my opinion, would constitute a gratuitous condemnation and “taking” of private property.

-- The most onerous and ironic part of the proposed new setbacks is that they exempt so many of the “hardscape” uses that are so much a part of the real problem.

The 795-acre limitation on oak woodland removal may be the most convoluted and cockeyed part of the Measure. How does that figure fit in with or compare to the tens of thousands of acres incinerated in the 2017 fires?

Speaking of fires, have you noticed how vineyards fared? Most were scorched around the edges, lost some endposts, driplines and grapes, but did not carry the hottest fires to downwind woodlands.

I found it telling that those Atlas Peak residents, who otherwise would likely have perished, were able to survive by seeking shelter in a vineyard. Intelligently sited and well-integrated vineyard blocks are among other things an excellent mitigating land use against wildfires.

Please vote No on C.

David Steiner


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