Sometimes change creeps gradually and we neither notice nor prevent it, until it’s too late.

For example, I may not pay much attention to Upvalley traffic---until one day I drive to Napa and find it takes twice as long as it used to.

Likewise: I might not mind if the county approves more visitors to some winery---until I learn the winery is just a hundred busy yards away.

Or: More tourism might seem like an easy fix for a city budget---until we learn we’re hooked on it (positively cannot do without it!), and like an addict crave even more of it.

Small changes accumulate till we realize: cumulatively they are large. Increasingly, Napans have awoken to the gradual transformations permitted by government---through perhaps indifference, ignorance, or, let us not think, avarice.

Historically, the accelerated changes were birthed in 2008 when agriculture was redefined to mean not only growing food but also marketing (food-and-wine pairings, etc.). Then the door was opened to the aggressive tourism that now (1) enrichens the industry and (2) pleases governments; and which also crowds the valley, consumes the water, and drives the housing costs beyond the reach of the very workers who labor to sustain the glamor.

The public has deplored these changes, but neither letters to editors, nor public comments at government meetings, nor sign-holding demonstrations have impressed lawmakers. It takes a keen outsider like James Conaway to document the arc in the valley from superb ag to self-congratulatory sybaritism.

The public pleads for a retreat from indulgence. Yet in January the county gave Cuvaison permission to increase visitors 140 percent, to 65,520 per year. For Vine Cliff Winery in Oakville it approved an increase of annual tasting room visitors from 100 to 18,200. Astoundingly, this scale of change is old news. In 2012, 2.9 million visitors came to Napa; only four years later it increased 20 percent to 3.5 million.

Meanwhile, law-abiding vintners compete with wine-industry violators in a county whose feckless idea of rule-enforcement regarding visitors and events is---seriously---self-reporting. (Do you turn yourself in to the CHP if you speed?) County residents suffer cancer rates among the highest in the state. And it’s left to the public to initiate common-sense measures like restraints on helicopters, or preservation of woodlands, when government officials will not.

When government officials will not respond to the public’s pleas for protection against incursions that slither so seductively they’re unnoticed till they devour the very lifestyle that attracted them, it’s time for a change in government.

Right now, personally, I think the best opportunity for change is Lucio “Cio” Perez, candidate for the board of supervisors. He’s a native of St. Helena, a farmer, active in civic affairs, aware of the changes the county has suffered in recent years, and focused on the health of the valley. Please visit his website cioforsupervisor.com; ask to meet him.

If this valley is to be preserved, then paradoxically something has to change. The change to Cio will be a good start.

Donald Williams


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