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Grape frost protection just one example where there needs to be balance

[caption id="attachment_19925" align="alignright" width="216" caption="Lou Foppiano"][/caption]

Vintners are hopeful 2010 will be a rebound year for our economy at all levels.

Despite an economic climate where unemployment has jumped nearly 6 percent in less than two years, we are still investing in Sonoma County and the North Coast and committing ourselves further to the future of the region’s economic growth, job creation and sustainable land management practices.

Our confidence in local leaders is one of the reasons we are willing to invest. While we do not always agree with their policies, most local governments in the area work under a principle of collaborative fairness. In short, all sides are heard and the community’s best interests are put forward as policy. The result: Jobs are produced, our precious natural resources are protected and Sonoma County’s future is planned for years to come.

Dealing with state government takes a little more work. For example, there’s the issue of using Russian River water to protect budding vines in the spring from frost.  If vines freeze, our grapes will be destroyed.

A couple of years ago river water levels became a concern due to drought, presenting a problem for fish habitat. We are seeking to resolve the issue with the State Water Resources Control Board, hoping to reach a compromise that will protect fish runs and our ability to stop frost from destroying the grapes of that year.

Board staff started out with draft rules that unreasonably penalize well-intentioned vineyard managers, but we’re hopeful that the final set of regulations will represent a balance of interests between good stewardship of the environment and promotion of a healthy Sonoma County agricultural community. Those goals are not mutually exclusive. They are an interdependent necessity as urban growth threatens our bucolic way of life.

Prodding state government to “get it right” when it comes to helping businesses, rather than hurt them, is a recurrent theme these days.  At times, it seems to fall on deaf ears. We find business bankruptcies at an all-time high. California-based businesses are expanding their operations in other states rather than in the Golden State, and American CEOs rank California as the worst place to do business of all 50 states. However, as a viticultural endeavor, we are married to Sonoma County and cannot relocate.

How do we get state government on the right path?

We need to insist our regulators and legislators work with us to develop solutions for the common good. For example, the Legislature could develop an economic plan to get us moving again.

It should focus on getting stalled projects moving, retaining companies that are thinking of moving out of state and cutting regulatory burdens that stifle job creation and contribute to the shrinking of our manufacturing base.

Our leaders must make California’s sputtering economic climate their most urgent priority. It’s time to get serious and get down to business.  The future economic health of our region and our state depends on it.

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Lou Foppiano is chairman of the board of the more than 100-year-old Foppiano Wine Co. in Healdsburg, www.foppiano.com, and a member of the Wine Institute.