Letter to the Editor, Napa Valley Register. George Caloyannidis 2/15/18
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
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
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
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.