By Jeri Hansen-Gill and Dave Whitmer
Measure C, the “Napa County Watershed and Oak Woodland Protection Initiative,” is a deeply-flawed, confusing and anti-agricultural land use Initiative that will appear on the June ballot throughout Napa County.
The Initiative, while likely written with good intentions in mind, goes too far in an attempt to curtail future agricultural operations, is deeply misguided, and as an independent legal analysis concluded, is “arguably unlawfully vague and misleading.”
Measure C is misleadingly presented to voters under a draconian scenario that suggests that our oak woodlands and watersheds are imperiled and in need of imminent and immediate protection – yet the authors of Measure C haven’t provided any scientific evidence or research to validate the need for implementation. They also won’t tell you about Measure C’s provision allowing for another 795 acres of oak woodlands to be removed, nor the rigorous environmental regulations already in place to protect our streams and woodland areas – protections previously called for by voters under Measure J (which strengthened protections for the Ag Preserve and Agricultural Watershed zoning areas).
Measure C will also amend provisions of Measure J, and as an independent legal analysis noted, “it appears that conflicts existing between the land use policies proposed by the Initiative (Measure C) and those adopted by Measure J may nonetheless potentially create a horizontal inconsistency within the General Plan,” thereby undermining these long-range planning documents and creating mass confusion for those dealing with conflicting and overlapping regulations.
For those who own a home or business in rural Napa County on one acre or more of land (which likely falls under the “Agricultural Watershed” zoning designation covered by Measure C), the chilling effects of Measure C on landowners and farming operations become much more apparent. Measure C goes to great lengths to curtail future agricultural operations, limits tree removal within 11 feet of a driveway, and creates ambiguities on even adding on to one’s home. It also creates a new classification of stream setback requirements without clearly defining what a stream, or what type of stream even is, further complicating efforts to comply with setbacks for existing or future buildings or agricultural development near these areas. This is one of several areas likely vulnerable to a legal challenge, as a violation of Measure C could result in misdemeanor charges, which leads to another issue about constitutional due process violations and criminal charges for violations landowners may not even be aware of!
The legal ramifications, likelihood of lawsuits and cost of enforcement are all likely to be borne by Napa County taxpayers. Should Measure C pass, legal challenges to several provisions within it are imminent, and it has been noted that the cost of compliance, typically passed on to landowners subject to the provisions of Measure C, only cover about 35% of the true cost for compliance – the rest will likely be passed on to taxpayers through increased departmental staffing costs, which then requires increased department operating budgets to comply with – again, without any scientific evidence to validate the need for all the extra regulation and bureaucracy in the first place.
Furthermore, due to exemptions for residential developments, this initiative could very well pave the way for large homes or “McMansions” throughout Agricultural Watershed zoned parcels, further damaging our hillsides and viewshed, and ultimately adding additional traffic to Highway 29 and our rural county roads. By tucking these kinds of structures alongside trees on our hillsides, the likelihood of other development in the Agricultural Watershed will further raise the stakes as landowners contemplate the next highest and best use of agricultural lands should Measure C pass and agricultural operations are curtailed in the future. It also directly contradicts the intent of the Ag Preserve and long-standing view that agriculture is and should be the highest and best use of Ag Watershed zoned lands.
While Measure C claims to protect the environment (even though there’s no scientific basis for those claims), it threatens land owners with criminal penalties, conflicting and confusing regulatory requirements, and could deny constitutional due process rights for violators. This poorly-written Measure not only seeks to mislead, but strike a blow to the heart of the agricultural economy that has made Napa County synonymous with fine wine and sustainable agriculture over the last 40 years. That’s why we stand with every Napa County agricultural organization (Napa County Farm Bureau, Napa Valley Vintners, Napa Valley Grapegrowers and Winegrowers of Napa County) in opposing Measure C. Learn more about our campaign by visiting www.ProtectNapa.com.
Jeri Hansen-Gill is the CEO of Sustainable Napa County and a member of the Napa County Planning Commission.
Dave Whitmer served as Napa County’s Agricultural Commissioner for more than 20 years.