Due largely to its robust tourism industry, Napa Valley is quickly running out of room for new vineyards. With the valley floor already full of vineyards, developers have started looking upwards into the hillsides for fresh land with which to make wine. On June 5th, Napa residents have a chance to push back and limit that growth by voting in their primary elections for Measure C.
Representing many years of work and compromise between environmentalists and vineyard owners, Measure C seeks to protect wild oak trees in the area. The preserved oaks prevent damage to the local watershed and groundwater levels, which, in turn, protects against erosion and its consequences. If passed, the initiative would allow up to 795 more acres of oak woodlands to be removed in Napa’s hills and mountains. After that additional acreage, landowners would need a special permit to remove anymore oaks and new vineyards would not qualify for such permits and would face further stringent conditions. The count of these 795 acres would start from September of 2017, but not include trees destroyed by wildfires. Measure C would also establish new standards for buffers near streams, prohibiting the removal of trees within 25 to 150 feet from streams, depending on the wetland area.
Opponents of the measure feel that this plan is vaguely worded and science doesn’t back it up. They also feel that Napa’s existing checks and balances adequately work to preserve its ecosystem. Not only that, but they are concerned by how the decision is being presented. With such a technical and science-heavy issue, some vineyard owners question the public’s ability to make an informed decision on the matter.
Because of this public vote, some are seeing Measure C as having a larger symbolic significance. Despite the economic prosperity that the vineyards bring to the area, many locals are increasingly frustrated with the burdens of the number of tourists that flock to the valley. Traffic jams, overcrowding and increased property costs are just a few of the many reasons that limiting additional vineyards has an appeal beyond the environmental-focus. This may be a two birds with one stone scenario for residents; not only will the trees be protected, but it will send a clear message to potential investors about just how warm a welcome they will receive.
Both sides of the argument are campaigning hard, and there’s no sign of stopping until the primaries on June 5th. Either result will certainly impact the future of Napa Valley. So, if you live in the area, do some more research on the topic, make sure you vote and make your voice be heard next month! For the rest of us, we’ll just have to wait.