July 12, 2022 was a sad day for Napa County.
As I sat with the usual suspects in the sparsely populated Board of Supervisors’ chamber during the final hearing for Walt Ranch, I reflected on the last years since 2015 that we citizens have filled the room, standing room only, to make public comment. Weekends we protested in front of the chrome rabbit at Hall Winery and in rallies in front of the administrative building at 3rd and Coombs. We wrote numerous letters to the planning commissioners and supervisors and LTE’s. In those days, we were still hopeful that if we presented the facts, we would be heard by our governing officials. Person after person walked to the podium for his or her three-minute comment, scientist after scientist, talking about risks in this development which originally involved cutting 28,000 mature trees for 35 parcels of vines and, as many pointed out, probably 35 villa estates. After all, the Halls are developers. This is what they do.
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Yes, there were successes. Acreage was reduced to 316 gross acres with 14,000 mature trees, mostly oaks, destroyed. When the applicant suggested replanting 2:1 as a greenhouse gas mitigation for killing these oaks, the county showed some sense and didn’t agree. Instead, more developable acreage was set aside as mitigation.
Yet I believe the county turned its back on the community of Circle Oaks over their concerns for their water supply when wells are pumped for vineyards. What about the erosion from disturbing the Milliken Watershed, Napa’s most pristine water supply? The use of ag chemicals will also drain into the lake. Who will pay for this clean-up? Certainly we, the ratepayers.
Then there are the questions about Supervisor Pedroza’s real estate dealings and the current investigation by the district attorney and the FPCC. Although he recused himself from the final votes on this last appeal “out of an abundance of caution,” he also shepherded Walt Ranch through over years, receiving $35,000 in campaign donations from the Halls. He stands to gain if Walt Ranch is developed.
Talk to the supervisors. They will tell you they had no choice but to deny this last appeal, allowing the project to go forward (unless there is court action in the next 30 days.) They will tell you this appeal had a narrow focus only on greenhouse gas mitigation. “This very narrow question we’re asked today, I still can’t find a way to say ‘no’ to it,” Supervisor Gregory seemingly lamented during a May meeting. (NV Register)
Yet the mitigation of conserving 267 acres of land to match the release of 27,496 metric tons of carbon from burning 14,000 which are also doing the yearly work of removing tons of carbon defies reason to anyone thinking very much about this. Are they more afraid of being sued than they are of the devastations of climate change?
Supervisor Dillon implied that this project would not have been permitted had we known in 2015 what we know now about climate disruption. “We can’t undo what we did in 2016. Things are so different now than they were then. We didn’t know what we didn’t know then.” (NV Register)
Yet I was there in 2015 in the standing room only chambers as citizen after citizen, scientist after scientist, came forward for their three-minute public comment saying why water, risks to biodiversity, fire, real estate development, how all of these were not adequately accounted for in the EIR.
Supervisors and Commissioners, The Big Question is, why didn’t you know? We told you. We paid experts we brought before you. We studied the situation and brought what we found to you, and yet you didn’t listen. What happens that our governing officials don’t listen to us in these hearings? The wine industry has your ear, but unfortunately, science and environmental concerns are scrapped in lieu of what too often are shoddy EiRs that support development. You tell us: this is what the general plan says can happen. Agriculture is by right, even in our precious ag watersheds. All we can do is follow the general plan.
This lock-step general plan excuse is going to be the end of all of us, community members and agriculture as well. We are in a climate emergency. Our county is warming, we are in drought, and the wine industry is using the lion’s share of the sub-basin water at a rate that is depleting the river and draining wells. We need you to put your actions where your mouth is. We fully support your declaration that Napa County is in a climate emergency. Now we need your actions to reflect the dangers of our warming county, because, as we all are learning, Mother Nature will play the final card.