Why We Formed the Coalition
Napa Vision 2050 was established in January 2015 by neighbors throughout the county to protect the quality of life for Napa County’s citizens and the rich biodiversity of our natural environment. As we watched the escalating development of vineyards and wineries into our fragile hillsides, sat in increasingly long lines of traffic along our highways, and witnessed the impact of our industries on the health of our children and our workers, we were concerned not only for our own quality of life, but for that of our future generations as well. We therefore joined forces to:
Our Affiliates: Calistoga Citizens for Green Community; Defenders of the East Napa Watersheds; Dry Creek Road Alliance; Get a Grip on Growth; Living Rivers Council; Mt. Veeder Stewardship Council; Protect Rural Napa; Save Rural Angwin; Sierra Club; Stop Syar Expansion; St. Helena Citizens; Watersheds Alliance of Atlas Peak
Our First Year
During our first year we found it necessary to appeal many of the decisions of the planning commission to the Supervisors, who have been satisfied with business as usual. We were disturbed that local government grants forgiveness for wineries operating outside of their permits while not showing such leniency for residential violations. This doesn’t seem like equal treatment under the law. They fall back on an outdated policy, the Zucker Report, to justify their leniency even though they rescinded this policy several years ago― We don’t make these things up, it is just the way business has always been done here.
We were also participants in the Agricultural Protection Advisory Committee (APAC), appointed by the Board of Supervisors in 2015 to discuss and develop guidelines on the winery and vineyard proliferation and movement into our protected Ag Watersheds. The committee of seventeen members was loaded with wine and hospitality industry members with just four of us representing environmental and community groups. It was impossible to agree on anything substantive.
Nevertheless a few recommendations were passed but have not been seriously acted upon by the supervisors, who appear reluctant to change the status quo. They don’t want to “rush” a compliance program because “understanding a permit is so difficult.” They support self-compliance and/or a compliance program based on citizen complaints. But self-reporting just doesn’t work—whether it’s for silica dust in the air, wine production and visitation, or football concussions.
Our Second Year
As we entered 2016 we sought a way to get ahead of the constant development projects that threatened the harmonious way of life we all sought. Week after week we felt obliged to show up at Planning Commission and Supervisor meetings to try to bring some sense of balance to the application process. We therefore planned a public Forum on the “Economics of Tourism—Social, Fiscal and Environmental Impacts” bringing in experts from across the county to speak. The program was quite well attended with most county and city electeds present. We thought the messages of constraint were just right but the electeds and tourism lobbyists have not deigned to act on any of these recommendations. Numerous hotels and resorts continue to be approved without considering the cumulative impacts on us, our neighborhoods and our environment.
We fought the good fight against the 35 year permit and expansion of the Syar Mine and Asphalt plants. Our greatest concern was their production and delivery of carcinogenic emissions over the residents of the State Hospital, the college, the numerous schools and the most unhealthy Imola/Phillips neighborhood. Along the way we discovered that Napa County has the highest rates of cancer in white adults and children and second highest among Hispanics in California! We sought out the Public Health Department to explain these alarming statistics-they could not. In the midst of this battle the County announced they wanted to build a new jail adjacent to the Syar Quarry where inmates and staff will be exposed to emissions output 24/7. They are blindly moving ahead to find money to build. And so, yet again, we have found that the Supervisors weren’t acting in the best interests of the community. Our affiliate, Stop Syar Expansion, appealed this permit approval to the Supervisors, lost the appeal and is now in litigation with the County. Additionally they have initiated a suit, which we have joined, to sue Syar for violation of California Prop 65 regarding their carcinogenic emissions.
As Napa becomes more famous, wealthy elites from out of town come here to grab a piece of the action for themselves. They tend not to be farmers but rather hire people to build their dream-vineyard wine estates with little regard to their impact on our lands, water and quality of life. The most notable example was the plan for the Walt Ranch in the Ag-Watershed lands of Atlas Peak, which called for the destruction of over 28,000 mature trees in order to plant some grapes. Among the many community concerns were the deforestation, use of millions of gallons of groundwater, the building of four reservoirs, destruction of wildlife habits and loss of biodiversity, blasting and excavating activities above and around the Circle Oaks neighborhood. And given that the project was adjacent to Napa City’s Milliken Watershed there was concern on how soil and chemical runoff would affect municipal water supplies. After many hearings, petitions, and street demonstrations the project was approved by the Supervisors—most of whom took campaign contributions from the applicants. Several groups are currently suing the County over this permitting process. We find ourselves distressed over the consistent 5-0 votes approving these projects often with little or no substantive public discussion by the Supervisors.
As communication with the Supervisors wasn’t working, we thought that one way to gain the upper hand was to sponsor a ballot initiative to protect and preserve our watersheds. The ballot language was approved by County Council after suggested changes were incorporated and before the petition documents were printed. We gathered over 6000 signatures to place this initiative on the ballot (3000 were required). Three-days after the initiative was approved for inclusion on the November 2016 ballot, County Council revoked approval saying that there was a technical issue. This has been a bitter pill to swallow as he wrote and approved two other ballot measures with the same technicality that made it into the election. We feel that our voting rights have been taken from us! Our current thinking is to place a modified Initiative on the ballot for June 2018.
At the end of 2016 the County approved a so-called alternate plan for control of groundwater in the valley sub basin which we feel is technically flawed. We tried to warn the Supervisor’s before they voted to approve this plan but were rebuffed yet again. We have filed our complaints with the state Department of Water Resources. On a related note, we believe that with the forecasted droughts, with hot and dry weather, the County and municipalities’ water supplies will be in jeopardy as the state becomes unable to supply water from the Delta. Napa City gets over 60% of its water from the state while American Canyon imports all of their water.
While all of our activities have not lead to what we would call a real win, Napa Vision 2050 has been acknowledged as shifting the dialogue. The Napa Valley Register cited our activities as the top story of 2016. Not everyone is happy with our presence and really wish we’d disappear-witness Pizzagate. In our attempt to hold some fundraising parties at a local pizza restaurant, we were squashed by the heavy-handed suggestions of winery executives. This perhaps is the best indication that we are succeeding!
One of our goals is to change the composition of our local elected officials. And we are proud to say that our friend, and Director, Geoff Ellsworth was elected to the St. Helena City Council.
Our Third Year: 2017
So if you’ve read this far you can see the situation: year after year our public servants seem more interested in what our industry has to say than what we, the citizens, think. We recently got two new Supervisors but somehow things remain the same. Just recently the family that owns the Caves at Soda Canyon came before the Planning Commission to gain approval for the fourth cave they had built without a permit. It was granted and several days later they put the winery up for sale! This was followed several weeks later by the Supervisors approving the Mountain Peak Winery at the top, the top, of ancient, decrepit, dead end Soda Canyon Road-just the place to put a tasting room and event center. When will this irresponsible behavior end?
As we look back perhaps the most egregious example of the Supervisors not listening has been the Syar permitting process. We get so angry when we think of the childish deliberation the Supervisors had before they voted: Mark Luce said “Napa needs good jobs and the quarry has those.” No discussion of the health issues. Alfredo Pedroza said something to the effect that “It was good to have two parties present their views–it was democracy in action.” Then they voted 5-0 to approve the permit.
Another recent example of how the Supervisors don’t seem to be aware of our needs is the raising of speed limits on numerous county roads without public input. The County failed to take into account a mandatory portion of the state vehicle code in setting these new limits: they did not determine “special road conditions not obvious to drivers.” We have held public meetings with community groups and currently have a petition in progress to support lowering of some of these increases.
The next important fight will be to make sure that the County’s Climate Action Plan (CAP) provides a realistic framework to reduce GHG and super gases production that have such a profound impact on warming.
So what can we do to change this situation? Washington and Sacramento seem so far away but surely we should be able to get the government we want and deserve here in Napa. We can achieve this if we work together. We can have the majority votes. If you are reading this and haven’t signed up to receive our communications please do so now. If you have then please ask your friends to sign up–that will double our reach…
Our goal continues to be to protect our precious, vulnerable supplies of air, water and soil to assure the well being of our future generations.