These 2,000-plus acres upon which a plethora of biologically diverse and rare species still thrive and which include two known significant wildlife corridors will be protected into perpetuity. This has been a long and expensive fight for all involved. Many describe this as a win-win-win situation. The Halls get compensation, Walt Ranch is saved for our future generations, and, in time, the land will be available to the public. But how did this win-win-win situation happen?
Activism is hard. You don’t know how your hard work is going to turn out. In this case, the owners of Walt Ranch, Craig and Katherine Hall, made the final decision. But where was our Napa County government, not only then but now? Several critical projects with potentially detrimental impacts on our watersheds, are now before them.
Will the changes in our county government—two new supervisors and a new CEO—make a difference? That’s the bigger question. Supervisors often say they are directed by our County General Plan (GP) on land use decisions in our fragile watersheds. Ag Watershed Open Space lands are zoned for agriculture despite soils and flora and fauna important to the resilience of the watersheds: our water supply. As our land-use leaders, our County Supervisors need to protect the forests, oak woodlands, and chaparral of our hillsides regardless of outdated zoning designations which also include the word “agriculture.”
Yes, it’s time that we fast-track the GP update. We can’t wait. The conditions and general awareness of where we were twenty-five years ago are long outdated. It’s time we fit our land use decisions to the land: what the land best supports and what best supports the land. WATERSHED is the highest and best use in our Ag Watershed and Open Space lands. Development needs to recognize this.
Chris Malan outlined how citizens worked to stop Walt Ranch and save this important watershed and biological hot spot in Napa County:
*Living room meetings at Circle Oaks, where we originally organized
*Then the countless BOS meetings insisting on public hearings
*Which got us public hearings held in the large conference room on Corporate Way, where the hearings went on for several days as we marched past the Halls with our heartfelt pleas to protect these lands, insisting on an environmental impact report (EIR).
*When we got the EIR, we honed in on our many significant environmental problems and eventually got conditions of approval, including no segmentation to ranchettes with wineries, vineyards, etc., as well as water quality monitoring.
*The county held more public hearings about the County’s General Plan/Strategic Plan, and most people asked for tree protection (due to outrage over Walt and the carnage to trees). Folks in attendance put a lot of dots on flip charts signifying their desire to have more tree conservation efforts in the county. We made our voices heard there.
*We filed three lawsuits-and one prevailed upon appeal by the Center for Biological Diversity/CBD on greenhouse gas emissions.
*Not to speak of all our rallies, letters to the editor, and countless meetings
Then the final public hearing where the BOS approved the Erosion Control Plan for the 206 acres of vineyards in woodlands and above our public water supply, Milliken Reservoir, and we showed up in mass. We kept asking the Halls to put a Conservation Easement on their properties.
“This is a testament to have a voice to make a difference. We should celebrate, but not too long nor to relax at all. Now our voices need to rise up more and more to save ourselves from ourselves with climate change threatening our very existence on this planet earth.”