By Andy Beckstoffer, Tom Clark, Randy Dunn, Beth Novak Milliken, Joyce Black Sears, and Warren Winiarski
Napa County is the wine-producing haven it is today because of forward-looking protections put in place by local leaders half a century ago. As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of Napa County’s Agricultural Preserve, which protects farming – including winemaking – as the highest and best use of most of the land on the valley floor, we feel a keen responsibility to protect this way of life for future generations. That’s why we and others have come together as the Growers/Vintners for Responsible Agriculture. We are all strong and enthusiastic supporters of Napa County’s Measure C, the Watershed and Oak Woodland Protection Initiative.
People who work in Napa’s wine industry today may not realize how controversial the Agricultural Preserve was when it was adopted in 1968. Landowners fretted that private property rights were being eroded and that land values would plummet. Half a century later it’s clear that those fears were unfounded. Indeed, it is largely because of the Ag Preserve that Napa’s wine industry has flourished.
Measure C was designed to ensure ongoing farming success in the Ag Preserve by ensuring that water remains available from the Agricultural Watershed zoning district. The beautiful oak-studded hillsides that surround the Napa Valley are also a critical source of our agricultural and town water supplies. Every grape grower, vintner, and citizen knows that water is an essential need in grape growing, winemaking, and the community. From our perspective, enhancing protections on these Ag Watershed lands, which recharge the reservoirs and the groundwater aquifers, is vital to ensuring the ongoing viability of the Napa Valley community and wine industry.
We are not radical environmentalists. We’re pragmatists in an era of extended drought, higher temperatures and growing competition for limited water supplies – from farming, a growing local population, and a robust tourism industry.
Napa County voters established large minimum lot sizes (40 to 160 acres) in the Ag Watershed at the ballot box decades ago. These lots sizes remain untouched in Measure C, which means that claims of extensive housing development on the hillsides that surround the valley under this initiative are unfounded. To correct a few other misconceptions, existing vineyards in the Ag Watershed can be replanted as needed, new vineyards are allowed (approximately 5,000 acres are deemed plantable), and the oaks lost to the fires are not included in calculating the oak-removal limit.
The need to protect Napa County’s water supply from overuse is clear to many of us who grow grapes and make wine in the region. Indeed, one of the leading trade groups for wineries – Napa Valley Vintners (NVV) – invested significant time and financial resources into the drafting of the initiative language that is now known as Measure C. It’s only when a vocal sub-group of NVV members and other industry trade groups objected to the initiative that the NVV Board withdrew its support for the measure. Claims that Napa Valley farmers and vintners are united against Measure C are simply wrong.
As long-time Napa Valley residents, it’s disheartening to see Measure C’s opponents launch what can only be described as an underhanded, misleading campaign designed to confuse voters. The court forced opponents to change five statements on the ballot arguments they submitted to the county, and to pay $54,000 in legal fees, because they were objectively false and misleading. Basing an opposition campaign on lies and distortions is no way to maintain congenial, respectful relations with our neighbors.
Don’t be misled, opponents of Measure C are endangering our water supply.
Measure C will protect Napa’s water supplies now and into the future. We invite growers, winemakers and citizens alike to join us in VOTING YES ON MEASURE C.
The authors are all members of Growers/Vintners for Responsible Agriculture, a group that was formed in response to the decision by the Napa Valley Vintners to fund the opposition campaign to Napa County’s Measure C.