They turned to the courts after Napa County disqualified the measure on a technicality. On Wednesday, the Supreme Court of California denied their latest legal effort to overturn the county’s decision in time for election deadlines.
Initiative proponent Jim Wilson called the legal effort a “hail Mary,” given the time constraints. The deadline for the county Board of Supervisors to place measures on the Nov. 8 ballot is Friday.
Another option is to once again gather signatures for a 2018 measure. After Nov. 8, the next scheduled Napa County election is on June 5, 2018.
“We will if we have to,” Wilson said. “We believe it’s important.”
But what looked to be a Nov. 8 election showdown is over. Opposing the initiative as adding unnecessary complications and expenses to farming were Napa Valley Vintners, Napa County Farm Bureau, Napa Valley Grapegrowers and Winegrowers of Napa County.
The Water, Forest and Oak Woodland Protection Measure came amid controversies over removing forests in hills to make room for vineyards. It seeks to increase buffers near streams and limit how many oaks could be cleared from a hillside property.
Proponents Wilson and Michael Hackett said the measure would help protect watersheds and the water quality in local reservoirs. Wilson said the issue is one of health.
Hackett predicted Wednesday the issue of increased watershed protections will continue, even with the measure off the Nov. 8 ballot.
“There is a very small segment of greedy people in the valley who want to have things their own way,” Hackett said. “There will be a rising up of vintners and citizens and politicians to support enhanced protections for the watershed. There’s no question about that.”
Board of Supervisors Chairman Alfredo Pedroza said Thursday he’s confident the county and the wine and farming sectors will have whatever discussions need to be had on watershed issues.
Napa County has tried to manage its resources and the challenges posed by its success, doing such things forming the Agricultural Protection Advisory Committee and addressing groundwater issues, Pedroza said. It has shown a commitment to the community that it does the right thing, he said.
The wine industry has done such things as help form the Napa Green environmental certification program for land and wineries. Multi-generational farmers are thinking about the next generation, Pedroza said.
“We don’t need an initiative hanging over our heads,” Pedroza said. “We have people who want to make sure the future of our community isn’t worse, it’s better.”
Wilson had a different view of the initiative.
“The people want to have a say,” he said. “They’re not going to have it this November, unfortunately.”
Proponents of the initiative gathered 6,298 signatures on a petition, more than the 3,791 required to qualify a ballot measure. Registrar of Voters John Tuteur in June certified that enough of the signatures were from registered voters.
But a few days later, the county said that signature-gathers failed to include the full text of the proposed measure with the petition, as required by state law. The initiative refers to policies in an existing county oak woodland plan appendix and the county said the petition needed to include this language.
Napa County Superior Court Judge Diane Price on July 22 agreed with the county. Initiative proponents then turned to the California 1st District Court of Appeal in San Francisco and ultimately the California Supreme Court, but failed to win their point.
Napa Valley Vintners, Winegrowers of Napa County, Napa Valley Grapegrowers and Napa County Farm Bureau said in an April letter the proposed laws seek to change a system that already works.
“There is no question that Napa County has already taken a forward-looking approach to environmental protection,” the letter said.
Existing Napa County law for “sensitive domestic water supply drainages” requires maintaining a tree canopy of at least 60 percent of what exists. It requires replacing oaks at a 2-to-1 ratio. It requires stream setbacks of 35 feet to 150 feet, depending on slope.
The proposed initiative would require owners in agricultural watershed zoning areas wanting to clear oaks on properties of 5 acres or larger to, in most cases, submit oak removal plans to the county. They would have to retain at least 90 percent of the oak canopy on a parcel. They would replace trees that are removed at a 3-1 ratio.
Stream buffer zones would be increased. For the first time, a 35-foot buffer would be required for Class III streams that are impressions serving as the headwaters for larger streams feeding rivers and bays.
Five nonprofit groups wrote to the California Supreme Court urging it to allow the Napa County watershed measure to be on the Nov. 8 ballot. They are California Native Plant Society, California Wildlife Foundation, Forests Forever Inc., Forests Unlimited and Corporate Ethics International.