Home Wine Business Editorial New Napa Ballot Initiative Splits Wine Industry, Set to Repeat Measure C...

New Napa Ballot Initiative Splits Wine Industry, Set to Repeat Measure C Battle

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By Barbara Barrielle

After the controversial and hotly debated Measure C was narrowly defeated in Napa County, the organization responsible for bringing the measure to the ballot, Napa Growers and Vintners for Responsible Agriculture (NGVRA), is attempting to get a new initiative on the November 2020 ballot.

The momentum built by the Napa Growers and Vintners for Responsible Agriculture and being fearful of “putting lawmaking into the hands of renegades,” made the Board of Supervisors pass the Water Quality and Tree Protection Ordinance.

“Measure C, which was designed to reduce hillside development in watershed areas but not curtail the wine industry, proved too complicated for voters to understand,” says Angwin Grower and Vintner Randy Dunn. “Because the measure lost by only hundreds of votes, it earned us a spot at the table.” However, Dunn points out that although they considered it a victory for conservation, the ordinance really only truly offered protection of 2-3%, which prompted the group to request the Napa Department of elections to prepare a title and summary for another ballot proposal called the Napa Valley Sustainability Initiative.

Beth Novak Milliken
Beth Novak Milliken

“This measure strikes a balance between protecting our forests and water supply while allowing the economy of Napa County to thrive long-term. It builds on the work of dozens of members of the community that fought for a strong ordinance from the County Board of Supervisors.” notes Beth Novak Milliken, President and CEO of Spottswoode Estate Vineyard & Winery. She continued, “This legislation aims to protect our forests, and thereby our scarce water resources, by simply not allowing mitigation on land that is already closed to development. We must be good stewards of our land so as to protect the long-term integrity of Napa County.”

Getting a measure on the ballot is not for the faint of heart or resources. The organization supporting the initiative is charged to recruit 5,500 signatures of local registered voters to get the measure on the ballot. This translates to about 7,000 signatures because of the necessity to hedge for errors; the NGVRA estimates a cost of $6 per signature. Then the Board of Supervisors have to decide whether to adopt the initiative or send it to the ballot.

Amber Manfree, PhD in geography and GIS mapping was hired to consult with the Napa Growers and Vintners for Responsible Agriculture. Her intense mapping of the Napa Valley over several years shows that the current Board of Supervisors “newly adopted rules will reduce total developable area by a mere three percent, leaving over 28,000 acres of trees on developable land open to deforestation.” She is concerned about Napa’s future, so much so that she ran for a seat on the Board of Supervisors but lost to incumbent Alfredo Pedroza.

On the other side of the initiative yet in the same valley, Ryan Koblas, CEO of the Napa Valley Farm Bureau says, “it’s frustrating to see an attempt at ballot box planning again. We already demonstrated that doesn’t work. Rather, we should all engage in a collaborative process to address concerns instead of forcing an initiative on the community where there is no room for public engagement or public input.

“It’s a take it or leave it approach. The correct venue is the Board of Supervisors to address these concerns and we already went through that process. There was ample room for equal discussion and equal input, and we arrived at a solution. Simply because some aren’t happy with the result doesn’t mean that another initiative needs to once again be forced on the community.”

Dunn points out, “we are a group of growers and vintners that think things in the Napa Valley are not going the way they should. While we cannot tackle all problems, we can take on the problem of water and the health of our watershed especially in light of the lack of any action by the Board of Supervisors…which is basically owned by the wine industry.”

Although the vintners and growers supporting the measure are part of the wine industry, the influence in local government that they refer to is the wine industry as made up of major players like Treasury Wine Estates, Constellation, and Gallo.

If the new initiative finds a spot on the ballot, Dunn says it is “simpler, softer guidelines with no planting on greater than 30% slope and any effort to mitigate development with offsite parcels shall be at a 6-1 protection to planting ratio.”

The initiative is likely to draw the same battlelines as measure C, but it is unclear that Napa residents have an appetite for it. The two supervisor candidates backed by NGVRA, Amber Manfree and Mariam J. Aboudamous both lost to incumbents, Alfredo Pedroza and Belia Ramos, with considerable margins.

“This should be a collaborative process with input from all sides. Continually forcing initiatives on the public and adopting this take or leave it approach is divisive. We all want healthy watersheds and a healthy environment,” says Koblas. “No one disagrees with that. Our members are excellent stewards of the land and Napa County is one of the most environmentally regulated counties in the state, if not the nation. When disagreements arise over how to accomplish these goals, they should be discussed at the Board of Supervisors level where the community can actually participate in the process.”

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