Once, I was naive enough to believe that Napa County was concerned about its residents, but my eyes have been glaringly pried wide open. I have attended many Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors meetings and realized that rarely have the boards met a winery development they didn't like.
Former Supervisor Keith Caldwell said at one meeting that Napa County's policy is not to punish violators but to bring them into compliance. That certainly explains why so many permit violators barely get a slap on the hand, i.e. The Caves, Reynolds Family Winery, Reverie, and Summers to name a few.
However, that opens another can of worms because there is little enforcement for code violators, so why shouldn't wineries get away with as much as possible.
I learned that in 2008, Napa County changed the definition of agriculture to include "wine marketing and sales," which, in effect, became a zoning change from agricultural to commercial use. That opened the floodgates and "farming" now includes everything from selling a winery's souvenirs (plates, cups, hats, etc) to hosting a wedding for 300 people.
The "No" side states that if Measure C passes, it will be the end of agriculture and farming. Since they are making so much more money on the new Napa definition of "agriculture," no wonder they aren't interested in protecting the trees and water quality. I admit, I wasn't paying attention to the change being made to zoning because I wasn't personally seeing the effects, but I now realize how detrimental that revision has been.
In October 2016, Supervisor Diane Dillon visited Circle Oaks and I asked what would happen if our wells went dry and we had to truck in water because of the Walt Ranch development (in watershed). She said I'd have to pay for it.
Given what has happened in the Carneros area, I have every reason to believe that it could happen to me. The same consulting firm that said there was plenty of groundwater to support the Carneros Resort and Spa development also said there's plenty of water for Walt Ranch.
The Carneros residents told the county supervisors back then that there wasn't enough groundwater in that area, yet the county approved it. Now, 10-plus years later, the city has been trucking in water to that area and just voted to start the process to connect the resort to city water pipes. Once again, another example of fixing a problem that should never have been given the green light in the first place.
I no longer trust Napa County to protect my property and water supply because I have seen how extremely solicitous they are to the wine industry. Supervisor Belia Ramos said at the Feb. 27 meeting when the supervisors voted to place Measure C on the ballot, that she felt this was the wrong way to initiate change and that the citizens should have come to the government to work out their issues.
I've had a front-row seat for the last four years and the commissioners and supervisors consistently ignore residents' concerns about every new winery and event center that keeps getting approved. The initiative route was the only way citizens felt they could have their voices heard.
Many people believe that the complex matters of protecting the watersheds and oak trees should be left to the county supervisors. With all due respect, have any of these people actually attended a county meeting when winery projects and appeals are being discussed?
I think not, because they would see that the commissioners and supervisors continuously approve every project and appeal before them in favor of the winery. Every concern by residents is mitigated away to a less than significant impact, always by the same environmental consulting service that the county uses for every environmental impact report.
This has been going on for years, which is why citizens have worked hard collecting signatures, not once but twice, to get Measure C on the ballot. They're tired of being ignored by the supervisors and planning commissioners.
Water is a limited resource, and climate change will make droughts more extreme and water sources more scarce. Napa County lost tens, if not hundreds. of thousands of trees in the Atlas Fire, yet Napa County will still allow remaining healthy trees to be cut down in the name of wine.
The effects of losing trees and not protecting the watersheds won't occur overnight---it will takes years or decades, but it will happen. San Francisco is planting 2,000 trees over the next two years to curtail global warming because they absorb carbon dioxide. Napa County will cut down trees instead.
If there was ever a time that a citizen initiative was sorely needed, this is the time. If you're unhappy with the direction that Napa County is heading, vote 'yes' on C.
Editor's Note: The Register asked Diane Dillon about the comments attributed to her by the author and she sent this response:
"Thanks for the opportunity to respond. I am not known for short conversations - especially on complex issues like the Walt Ranch - so I’m quite sure there was a larger dialogue than that one statement. My family lived in a rural area, and we relied on a well for our drinking water – so I understand and have compassion for those concerned about how a neighboring property owner’s new well might affect an existing water source.
"I distinctly remember discussing with Circle Oaks residents the challenge of proving that one or more new wells - whether installed by Walt Ranch or anyone else - whether for a vineyard - or a home/landscaping or other allowed use - could be attributed to a reduction in productivity of the Circle Oaks water supply - and the limitations of state water law on holding the new well owner responsible for that reduction. Indeed, if that happens overnight, and water is immediately needed, any property owner in that situation has to pay the cost for trucking water.
"But those conversations with residents informed and reinforced the decision to adopt for the Walt Ranch project mitigation measures that require extensive groundwater monitoring. Groundwater extraction is limited and checked monthly. If the monitoring program produces evidence that the project is having an impact on the groundwater basin, the county retains the authority to impose new conditions of approval. Further, if necessary to protect the basin, the county can revoke the project permit. The county has all the tools required to prevent the Walt Ranch from having an adverse impact on neighboring wells."