Napa Residents Struggle To Define The Valley’s Future

Our hillside oak woodlands, self-contained reservoirs and the Napa River Basin are at risk. Three quarters of the water used for grape growing in the Ag Preserve, on the valley floor, comes from subsurface ground water from our watersheds

Original article by Liza Zimmerman at Forbes.com 

May 4th, 2018- On the 50th anniversary of when one of the wine world’s most-progressive legislation was put into effect, residents of the iconic Napa Valley are struggling to sort out how they want to plan for their agricultural future.

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Photo Credit: Elin McCoy/Bloomberg News

In 1968, an agricultural preserve was created in the Napa Valley to regulate where wineries could be built, how many guests they could welcome and which could have restaurants. General consensus in the Valley, over the past decades, is that these laws have served residents, wine producers and other growers well.

The “Ag Preserve” originally covered 23,000 acres of land, according to the Napa Valley Vintners (NVV), a St. Helena-based trade organization which represents approximately 500 producers. As of today, 32,000 acres are in the Preserve and no land, according to the NVV, has ever been removed.

Compared to other regions, such as Sonoma and Santa Barbara, there has been significantly less legal stress and push-and-pull between residents in the Valley as a result. However, as the region nears this important anniversary, dissent is apparent across Napa as to how the area should move forward.

The Final Countdown

Voting on whether to regulate commercial development in the Valley will happen by ballot on June 5. The measure’s supporters say it will help protect local water sources, control development, and hedge bets for what could continue to be a future of overdevelopment for the region.

Its opponents express concern that Measure C primarily benefits current land and winery owners. They note that while its intentions are good, it doesn’t properly target some of the region’s current needs. Several also expressed concerns that while, if the measure is passed, it may limit new winery construction, it may not do much to prevent residential wear and tear on the region.

“Everyone who supports or opposes Measure C can agree on … the need to protect our environment,” shares Michelle Benvenuto, the executive director of the 20-plus-member group, Winegrowers of Napa County. She adds the region already has a well-established system in place to protect agriculture and the environment.

“All sides think all sides agree that protection of the region and view shed is critical to our living here and the success of the business that’s the economic engine driving change,” shares Rob McMillan, the executive vice president and founder of the Silicon Valley Bank Wine Division and a Napa Valley resident.

“We believe that Measure C is anti-agriculture and wrong for Napa County,” says Ryan Klobas, policy director of the Napa Valley Farm Bureau on behalf of the “No on C Campaign.” The Napa Farm Bureau is a member of a Coalition for Sustainable Agriculture that was formed to defeat Measure C, and is being used as the mouthpiece for the NVV for this measure.

He adds that Measure C is currently opposed by every major agricultural organization in Napa County, is confusing, and could cripple “agricultural vitally in the future.”

One of the measure’s co-authors, Mike Hackett, who is the chair of the Napa-based Save Rural Angwin, which is dedicated to protecting the “rural nature” of the Napa town Angwin, says that the environment needs additional protection.

“Our hillside oak woodlands, self-contained reservoirs and the Napa River Basin are at risk. Three quarters of the water used for grape growing in the Ag Preserve, on the valley floor, comes from subsurface ground water from our watersheds,” he adds.

As of this week contributions on both sides of the measure have been ramping up, with totals hitting more than $500,000 according to Klobas. Slightly more than $400,000 has been raised by the opponents and a bit more than $160,000 by its supporters.

May is likely to be a busy month in the Valley as Measure C’s proponents and opponents ramp up for the June vote.

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