On Dec. 4, my wife Christine and I delivered 6,072 signatures to qualify the initiative for the June 2018 ballot that will prohibit private and taxi helicopters from landing at sprawling homes and at wineries.
Many of the most desirable communities around our country -- Aspen, Long Island, The Hamptons, Torrance California, Westchester County, New York, just to name a few -- have failed to act in time and are now suffering the irreversible consequences.
As sponsors of the initiative and to celebrate the occasion of having spent so much of our own money and time in the process, Christine suggested a late lunch celebration at one of the valley's most beloved restaurants. If interacting with thousands of residents at shopping centers and farmers markets from Calistoga to St. Helena, to Napa while collecting signatures wasn't enough indication of voter sentiment towards the initiative and the Napa Vision 2050 organization, this lunch was even more revealing.
When it came time to pay, our waiter noticed my name on my credit card and, having read my many letters to the editor, was glad to meet me. He then informed us that he had joined Napa Vision 2050 and as lunchtime was over, he wanted to know more about the initiative and our motivation in pursuing it. Yes, waiters do read and waiters do care like anybody else in preserving our common quality of life. If they weren't, they could easily find jobs in the cities around us.
So, we asked him:
Is it in the spirit of the Napa Valley to disrespect one's neighbors right to a peaceful enjoyment of their property when we have two public use airports at both ends of the valley?
Is it right to compel our neighbors having to disclose the proximity of a heliport upon the sale of their homes?
Is it right to abuse the right to land a helicopter at vineyards for "direct" agricultural production by flying in consultants, executives and tourists to the detriment of the noise level of our valley?
And yes, law enforcement, fire and emergency providers may land anyway, anywhere and anytime.
In addition, our waiter was curious to know whether it was the Palmaz heliport application, which prompted us to get involved.
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According to county records, planning staff alone has spent over 1,000 hours thus far in processing this application, which is still not decided on appeal. Some 100 fearing neighbors had to attend the five all-day hearings to date, had to engage lawyers and consultants to counter the massive amounts the applicant spent on his own experts, consultants and lawyers.
While the applicant reimburses the county for staff time, he does not pay for approximately twice that of the real cost including future pension costs for every hour spent on this application, county overhead for building maintenance, repairs, utilities, equipment upgrades etc. We are the ones who do, and the money is never enough. All, because this helicopter owner doesn't want to drive 10 miles to the Napa airport to fly for recreation and convenience.
As a result and to our common detriment, when applications like these come before the county, they monopolize staff, planning commission and supervisors' time, preventing them from doing the work we expect them to, which is to promote the health and welfare of the Napa valley residents.
For example, instituting proactive procedures when fire danger is imminent and foreseeable well in advance, as it was during our recent devastating fires. How can we be better prepared to prevent fires before they get out of control next time?
We need detailed procedures in place to face the next earthquake. The next flood. What can we do to alleviate the onslaught of commuters, traffic congestion? The list is endless, but it requires our supervisors to allocate their time in the interest of the public rather than that on an application devoid of any public benefit. It helps when applicants fund supervisor campaigns.
When a waiter is joining Napa Vision 2050, we know it is here to stay because it is the sole voice of the residents who have no other representation. They are wooed with empty promises only come election time with their well being forgotten once in office. Special interests have but a handful of votes but a lot of money.
Our waiter was pleased to learn that Napa Vision 2050 will have its sponsored initiatives information forum in January 2018. As always, questions and dissenting positions will be welcomed.