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 acted 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 didn’t seem like equal treatment under the law. They were falling back on an outdated policy, the Zucker Report, to justify their leniency, even though they rescinded this policy several years ago
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.
CONFRONTED THE SYAR MINE AND ASPHALT PLANT EXPANSION
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 were blindly moving ahead to find money to build. So again, we 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 began litigation with the County. Additionally Stop Syar Expansion initiated a suit, which we joined, to sue Syar for violation of California Prop 65 regarding their carcinogenic emissions.
STOP WALT RANCH DEVELOPMENT
As Napa becomes more famous, wealthy individuals and developers from out of town have sought to build dream estates/vineyards in the rural areas 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 initiated suits against the County over this permitting process. We found ourselves distressed over the consistent 5-0 votes approving these projects, often with little or no substantive public discussion by the Supervisors.
Realizing our communication with the Supervisors wasn’t working, we sponsored 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 November, 2016 ballot (3000 were required). Three-days after the initiative was approved for inclusion on the ballot, County Council revoked approval saying that there was a technical issue. This was 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 felt our voting rights were taken from us and planned to place a modified Initiative on the ballot for June 2018.
ADVOCATED AGAINST THE COUNTY’S PLAN FOR CONTROL OF GROUNDWATER IN THE VALLEY SUB BASIN
At the end of 2016 the County approved a so-called alternate plan for control of groundwater in the valley sub basin which we felt was technically flawed. We warned the Supervisor’s before they voted to approve this plan that it would be inadequate in light of forecasted droughts which would put municipalities’ water supplies in jeopardy but were, again, rebuffed.We filed our complaints with the state Department of Water Resources.
Napa Vision 2050 was acknowledged this year for shifting the dialogue regarding our residents’ quality of life and the Valley’s biodiversity by the Napa Valley Register who cited our activities as the top story of 2016. While not everyone was happy with our presence and the Register’s recognition of our efforts was perhaps the best indication that we were succeeding!
One of our goals we set this year was to change the composition of our City Council and Board of Supervisors. Toward this end, we are proud to say our friend, and NV2050 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 a recurring theme our public servants seem more interested in what the tourism and wine industries say than what we, the citizens, think. Although two new Supervisors joined the Board,things remain the same. This year 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. This permit was granted. Several days later they put the winery up for sale! This was followed several weeks later by the Supervisors approving Mountain Peak Winery which is located at the very top of the ancient, decrepit, dead-end Soda Canyon Road Another indication of decisions being made for the benefit of the wine industry over the health and safety of our rural residents.
PROTESTING SYAR QUARRY EXPANSION
One of the most egregious example of the Supervisors not listening to community sentiment regarding potential health risks has been the Syar Quarry permitting process. NV2050 actively made our views known throughout the Board’s process of arriving at a vote. During deliberations prior to their vote, Supervisor, Mark Luce said “Napa needs good jobs and the quarry has those.” No discussion of the health issues raised by residents! Supervisor, Alfredo Pedroza claimed that was good to have two parties there to present their views–it was democracy in action. Then the Board voted 5-0 to approve the permit.
OPPOSING INCREASED SPEED LIMITS ON SOME COUNTY ROADS
We held public meetings with community groups and initiated a petition to support lowering of some of speed limit increases, decisions which did not include public input and did not take into account the state vehicle code inclusion of “special road conditions not obvious to drivers.”
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.”
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.