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Honoring the Ag Preserve founders, looking to the future
Honoring the Ag Preserve founders, looking to the future

While past and present county officials should be proud of Napa County’s landmark agricultural preserve, they need to keep their eyes peeled for persistently threatening efforts to whittle away the 37,618-acre greenbelt for urban development.

That was the prevailing sentiment at celebrations this past week on the 40th anniversary of passage the ag preserve — the first of its kind in the nation.

Enacted by the Napa County Board of Supervisors in 1968, the county’s ag preserve won’t disappear as the result  of “direct assault,” said Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars founder Warren Winiarski. “It will be nibbled away by (urban development) projects one at a time.”

Calling the 40-year-old greenbelt a “national treasure,” the well known valley vintner urged all who care about the county’s future to “work to preserve the preserve.”

Focused on maintaining the integrity of the ag preserve, Winiarski was but one of the speakers at an alfresco dinner held Saturday night under the olive trees in Jack and Jamie’s Grove at Schramsberg Vineyards in Calistoga. Jack Davies has been singled out over the years for his unwavering support of the ag preserve and efforts to have it enacted into law four decades ago. In tribute, his name has been affixed to an agricultural land preservation effort here in the Napa Valley.

Saturday night’s gathering was put on by the Jack L. Davies Napa Valley Agricultural Land Preservation Fund in an effort to salute county officials instrumental in the enactment of the AP zoning as well as to help educate a younger generation about its significance.

Congressman Mike Thompson was on hand as well to thank those who showed “tremendous political courage 40 years ago” in adopting the AP zone with, at the time, a minimum 20-acre lot size on the valley floor. He noted “there wasn’t unanimity in the protections that we enjoy today.”

He presented a congressional proclamation to Jack L. Ferguson, a member of the board of supervisors in 1968, and currently a resident of the Big Island of Hawaii.

Ferguson was also on hand at a special session of the Napa County Board of Supervisors Tuesday when the board unveiled a plaque “honoring the vision and courage of those who conceived and adopted the Napa County Agricultural Preserve.” It lists not only members of the 1968 board, but also planning commissioners and county staff members who played a major role in the ag preserve effort. It will hang in the lobby of the county administration building, located at the corner of Third and Coombs streets.

Also on hand Tuesday afternoon was another member of the ’68 board, Dewey Andersen; Don Mc Farland, a member of the planning commission in 1968; George Abate, assessor at the time who served the county for 24 years; and Jim Hickey, former county planning director and architect of the county’s general plan. In attendance as well were children of the other three 1968 supervisors — Henry Wigger’s sons, Henry and Ted; Julius Caiocca’s daughter, Julianna Fontana; and N.D. (Pete) Clark’s son, Foster.

Past supervisors Sam Chapman, Mel Varrelman, Joe Peatman and John Tuteur accepted the invitations of the current board to attend the special session, as did Agricultural Commissioner Dave Whitmer, Napa County Farm Bureau president Peter Nissen, Napa Valley Grapegrowers president Randy Snowden and Cliff Solari, representing Acorn Soupe, a non-profit organization working with students, teachers and parents in Napa and Sonoma Counties to provide a connection between kids and nature. Pat Haberger and sons Mark, John and Paul attended Saturday night’s celebration. She is the widow of former county administrator Al Haberger, credited as the driving force behind the passage of the ag preserve in 1968.

At Tuesday’s hearing, Hickey told current board members it’s easy to take the ag preserve for granted because of current pressures to focus on “housing, transportation and urban bubbles, whatever they are.”

When a “national treasure” is threatened by global warming or urban pressure, Hickey reminded the current board members — Brad Wagenknecht, Diane Dillon, Bill Dodd, Harold Moskowite and Mark Luce — “your responsibility becomes much greater.

“What keeps the AP alive are the five people in this room. There used to be a saying that ‘three votes and 30 days and you can change the law.’ Your only job is to keep (the AP zone) the way it is. Its future is your future.”

“I pray that you and other Napans stay strong and the principals of the ag preserve remain and prosper,” added former planning commissioner McFarland.

Anxious to clear up any misconceptions about fellow supervisor Pete Clark’s abstention on the AP vote in 1968 (which was 4-0-1), Ferguson told those at Tuesday’s gathering that Clark “was a 100 percent supporter of the ag preserve.” He explained that Clark had missed one of the board’s public meetings on the proposed AP zone and the county counsel had advised Clark to abstain from the vote as the zoning issue had some serious opposition and would certainly be appealed in court.

“That was the only time Pete Clark ever asked me how I was going to vote,” Ferguson said, because his fellow board member did not want the vote on the proposed greenbelt to wind up in a 2-2 tie.

Not only was the Napa Valley ag preserve the first of its kind, nothing like it has been passed elsewhere, JLD Ag Fund board president Melinda Mendelson advised. She also pointed out that not one acre has been taken away from the ag preserve since it was passed. Actually, a little over 2,000 acres have been added to the greenbelt during the past four decades, she pointed out.

But Winiarski and Davies fund board member Volker Eisele were quick to point out that at the moment two development proposals are pending — one in Calistoga, another in St. Helena — that depend on ag land being annexed to both cities. They both urged all concerned about land conservation to make their opinions known on the proposals.

“The ag preserve won’t survive without vigilance,” insisted Saturday night speaker Tom May, land conservationist, farmer and supporter of the greenbelt.

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