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As they waited to see if Napa County’s Measure C would maintain a razor-thin election lead, supporters and opponents of the controversial limits oak tree removal underscored what they say is at stake for the wine business that powers the local economy and for the environment that has made valley an envied destination.

Supporter and organizer Randy Dunn, part of Dunn Family Vineyards that farms 40 acres of grapes on Howell Mountain near the east county community of Angwin, on Wednesday said it is remarkable that the vote has been so close, claiming that backers were outspent by as much as 3-to-1.

“We know that we have gotten the attention of the valley and the board of supervisors and everybody else,” Dunn said. “There is no way that, if we lose, this will be a done deal. We’re not going to tolerate 10 years of scientific study.”

Ryan Klobas, policy director for Napa County Farm Bureau and spokesman for a coalition of agriculture industry groups opposing Measure C, on Wednesday remain confident that it will be defeated.

“We knew this would be a fight to the finish and look forward to the next set of results,” Klobas said in a statement. “We remain open to discussing the issues we’ve debated but believe the initiative process is the wrong way to address these issues. Rather, these issues should be brought to the Board of Supervisors.”

Called the watershed and oak woodland protection initiative, Measure C eked out a lead of just 42 votes — 7,191-to-7,149 — after the first two tallies on election night Tuesday. Napa County Registrar of Voters John Tuteur on Wednesday said 15,120 ballots were received in the county’s first totally vote by mail, and another 10,000–20,000 mail-in ballots arrived after the first counts.

The remainder would be counted starting Friday morning and continuing June 11–13, if needed. The latest tally of the vote gap narrowed to 35 more for the yes on C, as of 4:30 p.m. Friday. Further results are planned for Monday. The vote must be certified by the week of June 25.

Measure C was written to amend the Napa County general plan and zoning regulations to establish buffer zones around creeks and apply additional regulations on removal of oak trees and oak woodlands.

Those buffer zones would reach 25 to 125 feet from the streams and 150 feet from any wetland. Removing downed or dead trees, creating firebreaks and other health and safety improvements would be exempt. Those granted permits to take down trees would have to ensure at least 90 percent of the “affected oak canopy” is retained.

Trees or woodlands removed would also have to be replaced at a 3-to-1 ratio on lands designated as agricultural watersheds or “comparable habitat” be acquired.

Under another provision, if total of oak woodland removed exceeds 795 acres (counted from Sept. 1, 2017) any other oak and oak woodland removal would require permits. Any trees burned for removal would be counted, but those torched during wildfires would not.

The move toward Measure C started a couple of years ago, and the campaign crescendoed in the weeks before the election. In March, a backer sued Tuteur and other county officials, claiming certain parts of the opposing argument that would be printed in the voter guide were misleading. A settlement was reached, including a wording change from “outlaw future farming” to “limit future farming” and covering $54,000 in legal fees for supporters.

“Their whole campaign was taking what we said and twisting it 180 degrees: It will cause more traffic. It will be bad for the Ag Preserve and bad for the watershed,” Dunn said. His family has been operating the winery since the 1970s, producing 5,000 cases annually in recent years of cabernet sauvignon wines that retail for $85–$125 a bottle.

Napa County Farm Bureau, Napa Valley Vintners, Napa Valley Grapegrowers and Winegrowers of Napa County opposed Measure C. That’s because it is “too confusing, too extreme and has too many unintended consequences,” Klobas said.

“It’s a classic example of ‘the devil is in the details,’” he said. “You read the title and summary of Measure C, and at first glance, it sounds great: Who wouldn’t want to protect our watersheds and oak woodland areas?”

The regulation doesn’t call for investments in water quality and exaggerates conversion of woodlands to vines, Klobas said. He pointed to county Agricultural Commissioner’s Office data on vineyard acreage growth of 0.08 percent to 0.82 percent in the past five years and declining acreage for five years before that. And Klobas noted that Napa County is rare in the state for requiring vineyard projects to go through review under the California Environmental Quality Act, or CEQA.

Dunn said Measure C would be lenient on vineyard projects, given that permits in various stages of review could amount to 5,000 more acres of grapes, if the plans were given a green light.

“That’s a huge number of additional gallons of wine,” Dunn said. “Do we really need Napa Valley to be from one side to the other with grapes? No, it will screw things up. We have enough vineyards and enough traffic.”

Supporters of Measure C include some luminaries in the local wine business, notably Warren Winiarski of Judgment of Paris fame and large-scale grower Andy Beckstoffer. Also backing the Measure C campaign includes the Sierra Club, Center for Biological Diversity, Napa Vision 2050, Save Rural Angwin and public officials such as St. Helena Mayor Alan Galbraith.

The Center for Biological Diversity earlier this year appealed a Napa judge’s ruling that found the county acted properly in approving a hillside vineyard project by Walt Wines.

Vintners and winegrape growers in Sonoma County have been watching the outcome of the vote, as pressure has been building in the past two decades to further limit vineyard growth there.

Contact Jeff Quackenbush at jquackenbush@busjrnl.com or 707-521-4256.