11.07.2008  
 

Napa Voters Approve Measure P

Move extends lands preservation initiative until 2058

 
by Kate Lavin
 
Napa County Measure P
 
Napa, Calif. -- Residents of Napa County on Tuesday overwhelmingly voted to extend Measure J, the agricultural lands preservation initiative passed in 1990, for another 50 years.

Like its predecessor, Measure P required a vote of the people in order to redesignate agricultural, watershed or open space land within the county and make it available for development. Supporters said that the five-member Board of Supervisors should not wield sole control over the future of open space within the county.

"Everybody likes (Measure J), and what happened in the intervening 18 years (since it passed) is that people have seen that the measure does nothing against business. It isn't bad for anybody--the realtors are making tons of money since the land prices are sky-high anyway, so nobody is complaining," said Volker Eisele, founder of Volker Eisele Family Estate in the Chiles Valley viticultural area.

Measure P gained the support of 62% of the voters who cast ballots by Tuesday. Although there were no formal opponents in the ballot arguement, and it was supported by all five cities within Napa County as well as the Board of Supervisors, 37% of voters rejected the proposal. "A lot of people just vote 'No' on propositions," said Peter Nissen, president of the Napa County Farm Bureau, which backed the initiative.

Nissen added that there were a couple of tweaks to the original measure, which was almost identical to its 1990 predecessor. Besides the 50-year extension, Measure P included a passage allowing it to be in compliance with the housing requirements the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) makes of Napa County. Measure P states that, "Where necessary to comply with applicable state law governing the provision of housing, the board may redesignate land designated as 'agriculture, watershed and open space' or 'agricultural resource' on the land use map…without a vote of the people."

Although the original proposition, Measure J, wasn't due to expire until the year 2020, its authors decided to include the extension measure on the Nov. 4 ballot because the 2008 presidential election was predicted to draw a huge number of voters.

"This is a convenient year because it was a normal election year," said Mel Varrelman, one of the authors of Measure P and former Napa County supervisor. "That measure was due to sunset in about 10 years or so, and we started looking at (an extension) a little over two years ago."

Shortly after voters approved Measure J in November 1990, four residents joined Richard DeVita in bringing a lawsuit against Napa County. The suit, backed by the Building Industry Association of Northern California, alleged that the General Plan could not be changed at the will of the voters. After a series of verdicts and appeals, the case was argued before the California Supreme Court, which sided with the county and upheld Measure J.

Since the enactment of Measure J, voters have approved a handful of the proposals put before them--expansion of Bistro Don Giovanni, the Stanly Lane pumpkin patch and a boat storage facility in Lake Berryessa--while rejecting others, such as a large development project south of the city of Napa.

"It has kept out several massive projects out of Napa County," Varrelman said, citing a large project one developer hoped to build south of the city of Napa. "And I think, because of the Measure J requirement, we can't count the number of people who were discouraged" from even trying to get their projects approved.

Although winegrapes are the most popular agricultural export from Napa County, Eisele said that the legislation was crafted to protect all land designated for open space, watersheds or agriculture.

"If I switched from growing Cabernet to growing tomatoes, the land would be just as important," he said. Measure P "is not winery or vineyard specific. It really puts the bar a little bit higher, since supervisors are an easier place to get exceptions than the voters at large."
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