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Who saved the Napa Valley since 1968?

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When Senators and House members run for reelection, they invoke the number of successful bills they have sponsored. Such bills, for better or for worse shape the future of our country and our lives. If you think about it, why would anyone run for office if it were not for this privilege?

Sean Scully's recent article “The benefit of hindsight,” (Feb. 11) got me thinking about who has stewarded the Napa Valley in the past 50 years to the jewel it is, one embodied in the balance between development, agriculture and nature.

Following the protection of agriculture from development, agriculture itself had to be restrained from devouring nature as it has done from Bordeaux to the Douro valley and in the famous wine countries everywhere. The unique balance in the Napa Valley is owed to the citizens who developed and pursued the important ideas on the ballot or convinced the supervisors to adopt them.

Among them, the Ag Preserve itself 50 years ago, which was predicted to bring gloom and doom and plummeting property values but today is being claimed even by its naysayers as their own.

Measure A, (Flood Protection and Watershed Improvement), Measure J (Agricultural Lands Protection) and P to extend it. Measure N (Growth Controls) and U (Protect Rural Angwin), ordinances to protect the hillsides, the view shed, stream setbacks and to prevent winery tourist by helicopter, to name a few.

They all originated from the citizens, not from the supervisors’ ideas. This extraordinary, in fact unique citizen engagement has been and continues to be the result of millions in donations in both money and time in the face of fierce opposition by special interests, lobbyists and campaign donations.

When in 2010 having taken control of the supervisors agenda, these forces of greed transformed an agricultural economy into a tourist economy, they then took aim at nature itself pushing our collective quality of life into freefall ever since.

In 2017 alone, 892,000 additional gallons of wine production have been approved even for use-permit violators. This translates to 65 million gallons of water with one more year of drought lurking. New vineyard conversions in our forests and watersheds to satisfy rampant production are now in peril. In the meantime such permits are doled out just for the asking with no comprehensive guiding standards as to how they impact a sustainable future for this valley.

Once again, doom and gloom and declining property values are invoked in the face of the Oak Woodland and Watershed Protection initiative. I challenge the naysayers to show me another county anywhere in the country where a piece of rural land in its forested hillsides purchased for just building a home - not developing a vineyard - has a value to rival that of the Napa Valley. Such windfall is solely owed to the balance between agriculture and nature won by the citizens of this county. If we sacrifice it to the insatiable greed of the few, all of us, even they will lose everything.

We cannot keep increasing wine production and visitors ad infinitum, we cannot compromise our water quality, we cannot allow wealthy owners to fly their helicopters for recreation at the expense of their neighbors and the general ambience of the valley. Imagine the kind of valley we would have today had citizens not put a stop to helicopter tourism among our 400 wineries in 2004. But these were times when government welcomed citizen ideas and was willing to act in the common interest with an eye into the future.

Sadly, the forces of greed and campaign contributions have tipped the balance where now Grand Jury recommendations are tossed, voices of the wine world icons who put this county on the map in the first place are ignored and, most disturbing of all, good citizen ideas and activism which created this jewel are considered a nuisance.

The proof is in the latest effort by the unelected Planning Commissioners to "streamline" the permitting process by limiting citizen input at hearings from an already laughable three minutes and to an offensive two.

In the past 50 years, neither the planning commissioners nor the supervisors have been able to lead, but to their credit they were willing steward partners of the citizens who did. Now, oblivious to the debt they owe to them for filling the void of ideas, they are trying to silence them. When the checks and balances are gone, when government abdicates its duty, the jewel goes up in smoke.

George Caloyannidis


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