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Vineyard owner and Measure C supporter Randy Dunn says the official defeat of Measure C won’t speed up Napa County’s politics, which seem to him to move at the same maddeningly slow pace as its traffic.

What will continue rushing forward is development of wineries, vineyards and housing estates, said Dunn, who moved to Napa Valley in 1975 and started his own vineyard.

Nor is Dunn optimistic about the Napa County Board of Supervisors meeting on July 10 to discuss the aftermath of the bitterly fought Measure C campaign, thinking it likely that any genuine efforts to address runaway development, damage to the water table or excessive logging — issues he cares deeply about — will be buried in do-nothing committees.

“I hate committees,” Dunn said, adding an expletive.

But he and the people who supported Measure C and its restrictions on land use and tree cutting in the valley aren’t feeling defeated, he said.

He says they are more angry. Whether that will lead to further action remains to be seen, although Dunn said he and others on his side plan to meet with county officials soon to present more information about damage to the environment by development, particularly logging. But it may take some time for them to focus their efforts after the bruising fight over Measure C.

“I’m not going to tell you,” he said with a weary chuckle when asked about the group’s future plans. “But I know that we don’t have a strategy. The only strategy that I think will be maintained is the truth, which is kind of a novel concept these days.”

Agreeing to disagree

Although he might agree with Dunn about the glacial speed of some governmental bureaucracy, Ryan Klobas, policy director at the Napa Farm Bureau, thinks Measure C, had it been passed, would’ve made things worse in the valley, not better, particularly for vineyard and winery businesses. More regulation isn’t the answer, he said.

“Napa County has some of the most stringent environmental regulations in the country,” said Klobas. “It isn’t easy to go through the process to get the acreage you want.”

Klobas said the Napa Farm Bureau, where he’s worked for nearly a year, isn’t just sitting smugly after successfully shooting down Measure C.

“We plan to get together soon and discuss next steps,” he said. “Whatever the exact process is, it needs to be evidence based, science based, data driven.”

On the face of it, both Klobas and Dunn want a focus on the truth as they move forward. But they disagree on determining what that truth is, and that’s the biggest problem Klobas said he had with the proponents of Measure C.

“The argument that Measure C was needed to protect the water or save oak trees was not true, because there was no evidence that was a problem,” said Klobas.

Pointing to a lack of specific scientific studies or statistics showing a problem during the campaign, Klobas said the Napa Farm Bureau and its 600 members will insist on a more rational debate moving forward. The Measure C fight, a bruising battle that even descended to litigation over the wording on the ballot materials, wasn’t particularly rational, he said, but based more on resentment against wineries.

“This was narrowly targeted at vineyard planning; you could build a house, or a solar charging station, but not a vineyard,” he said of the proposed restrictions on land use. “We can’t let emotion rule this.”

The Napa Farm Bureau and its allies plan to present more information at the upcoming July 10 meeting of the Board of Supervisors, just as Dunn and others who promoted Measure C will do.

“It remains to be seen what the Board of Supervisors wants to do,” said Klobas. “The supervisors have differing opinions.”

He suggested the board might decide to collect more community input through creation of local committees.

A harsh history

Klobas said that although he’s happy to meet his opponents, communication between the two sides has been minimal in the immediate aftermath of the closely fought election.

“They have not reached out to us,” he said.

A history of bitter disagreements between the sides is one obstacle preventing a compromise, said Dunn, adding that moves made in bad faith by opponents to Measure C-type restrictions in the past, including having a similar measure removed from the 2016 ballot, have poisoned the relationship between them.

The fight over wording on the ballot this time was particularly vicious, with Dunn calling the language submitted by groups against Measure C “lies.”

Dunn said some corporate chicanery has continued into the post-election period, and that it affects the decisions he and his allies might make about how to proceed.

The Napa County Board of Supervisors already discussed Measure C issues at a June 17 meeting, Dunn said, but it wasn’t adequately publicized.

“They pulled a real fast one on their previous meeting because they didn’t announce they were going to talk about it,” he said. Several wine businesses, including Constellation and Treasury, were there, along with a grape-growers organization, while Measure C proponents were absent.

“They talked about their side of the deal,” said Dunn, who isn’t confident much progress will come from efforts by the Board of Supervisors.

“They’ll form a committee that will meet for another year, and in another year they’ll want to have some results from scientific studies,” he said.

Though, given his animus toward committees, he isn’t likely to personally attend the upcoming July 10 meeting, “Our side will be there,” Dunn insisted.

He plans to keep working to support those who believe in Measure C from outside the county bureaucracy.

“I think I’m more effective if I work out in the periphery,” he said.

Seeing through Sonoma smoke

The devastating October 2017 fires in Sonoma County, Napa’s neighbor, have taken planners’ focus off the development debate, said Padi Selwyn, co-chairwoman of Preserve Rural Sonoma County, a group seeking stricter restrictions on winery sprawl. Smoke from another development may also have gotten in the eyes of some Sonoma County officials, Selwyn said, saying breakneck efforts to accommodate and regulate the newly legitimate cannabis industry have overwhelmed some agencies.

Nevertheless, Sonoma faces many of the same issues as Napa and has a spirited, ongoing debate about development and the role of regulations and restrictions.

“Of course we were disappointed with the final outcome, yet heartened by how close the vote was,” Selwyn said of Measure C’s defeat at the polls.

Selwyn points particularly to the problem of new permits for event centers and tasting rooms that draw many tourists to vineyards, which she said should be more thoroughly regulated. She hopes to lobby county staff to shift priorities and improve the way new tourist-heavy facilities like tasting rooms are approved.

“We understand that county staff is focused on processing permits in areas devastated by October’s fires,” said Selwyn. “Yet, it makes no sense for county staff to continue processing discretionary winery event center and tasting-room use permit applications using the time-consuming case by case method, while simultaneously claiming lack of resources to develop standards for new and modified use permits requesting visitor-serving uses.”

Her group is deeply concerned about what she calls “this pattern of delay” in restricting the construction of new facilities at wineries. It started before the October 2017 fires, she said.

“Event center and tasting room permit approvals continue to move forward, without any resolution of the considerable impacts from over development,” said Selwyn.

Karissa Kruse, president of the Sonoma County Winegrowers, a trade association, declined to comment on county policy because her organization is a public entity.

Tawny Tesconi, executive director of the Sonoma County Farm Bureau, was traveling out of state and unable to comment.

But it’s clear the debate in Sonoma is similar to that in Napa, where business interests point to their enormous contributions to the vitality of the area’s economy, while other groups grumble about growing traffic congestion and damage to the environment and rural character of the county.

“The bottom line is we want to avoid Napafication,” Selwyn said. “Sonoma’s unique rural character has made our county so desirable that it should not be jeopardized by lack of planning.”

Whether concerns about traffic and the environment lead to a similar restrictive ballot measure in Sonoma County isn’t entirely clear, said Selwyn, though she hasn’t given up on the idea, particularly if a cooperative approach doesn’t work.

“We will continue to work collaboratively with Sonoma officials,” said Selwyn. “However, Sonoma County voters respond well to ballot initiatives, especially those protecting open space and public trust resources.”