Last week, after several years of controversy over Napa County watershed development, Pacific Union College placed 864 acres of forested land into a conservation easement after working with the Napa County Land Trust. As the new PUC President Bob Cushman said in a recent interview, “ ….the forest is an integral part of the education and student life experiences at Pacific Union College. I am very pleased to see this forest preserved and managed in perpetuity.”
This attitude is new and long overdue. The story is long and circuitous. Following the passage of Measure J in 1991, twelve different areas in unincorporated Napa County, referred to as “urban bubbles,” were excluded from the protections afforded from this citizen’s initiative. Eighteen years later, in 2009, the Napa County Board of Supervisors (BOS) changed those “urban bubbles” to be consistent with Measure J, but in Angwin because of a prospective residential subdivision planned on PUC land from developer Triad, this mountain top hamlet was left vulnerable.
Save Rural Angwin (SRA) formed in 2006 as a Political Action Committee focused on protecting the rural character of Angwin. SRA participated in the county’s General Plan update process. SRA also began work to convince PUC that they should be preserving their lands, not selling off to a developer. Little did the members of SRA know that this exhaustive and exhausting fight would go on for a decade.
Over the ensuing years, SRA applied pressure that helped reduce the proposed subdivision from 1,000 homes down to 591 and then down to 380. Eventually the project stalled out as the general economy declined. But in 2009, PUC re-commenced work towards this eco-village. In 2012 SRA learned that PUC had once again entered into an exclusive development contract to build hundreds of homes atop Angwin’s Howell Mountain, despite being told no development plans were underway. SRA used its only alternative – a citizens’ initiative known as Measure U to stop the development plan. Measure U did not win at the ballot box largely due to big money and falsehoods pouring into the campaign. “Unfair, and Unnecessary” were the college’s campaign mantra all- the-while stating untrue facts that they were not engaging in development.
In the last BOS meeting in which Supervisor Keith Caldwell was on the Board, SRA with the assistance of Supervisor Diane Dillon, the “urban bubble” was rezoned to Ag Watershed which crushed any future housing development plans for the college. This was a direct result from the years of proactive work from SRA and the lack of truthfulness from PUC’s then-administration.
Now with a new President of the college, a new attitude of inclusiveness and outreach to SRA who represents the community, the threat is gone. The new administration has gone so far as to thank SRA, formally and informally, for fighting against an ill-thought-out development and for helping foster new open lines of communication with residents.
Because the new attitude from PUC has brought about remarkable changes with faculty, staff and students; and coupled with the work from SRA, many more people have been interested in helping PUC accomplish this wonderful goal of forest preservation. It’s a new day in Angwin, and the persistence and determination over years of service to the community has paid off.
The collaboration of the community and the college is evident in Angwin. Together, management of Howell Mountain’s forests is of the highest priority and initial work is underway to help protect the community from wildfire.