NVR: Top 10 Stories of 2017, No. 6: Oak Woodland measures

A proposed ballot measure to further protect Napa County oak woodlands and watersheds returned in 2017 amid maneuverings that split the wine industry.

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Napa Valley Vintners, an arch foe of the original, 2016 proposed measure, teamed up with residents Mike Hackett and Jim Wilson to write a new version. Other wine industry groups said they were left out.

“It was crafted by a handful of people without any input from those it will directly impact or the county officials who need to implement it,” said Michelle Benvenuto, executive director of Winegrowers of Napa County.

When the dust settled, initiative backers thought they had enough signatures to qualify the measure for the June 5 ballot and Napa Valley Vintners had withdrawn its support.

All of this sets the stage for a 2018 election battle. Supporters say the measure will protect Napa County’s water supplies and oak forests. Opponents say it will needlessly curtail hillside vineyard development.

Wilson and Hackett had tried to place another version of the watershed measure on the November 2016 ballot. The county disqualified their initiative petition on a technicality.

In September, Wilson, Hackett and Napa Valley Vintners announced they had co-authored a revised measure and filed it with the county Election Division. That meant they could try to gather the 3,800 signatures of local registered voters needed to qualify it for the June 5 ballot.

Hackett praised Napa Valley Vintners for a collaboration he said took place over the previous seven months.

“They are very interested in the future of Napa County and working with environmentalists,” he said in September.

Michael Honig, chair of the Napa Valley Vintners Board of Directors, outlined the group’s position in a press release.

“Failure of last year’s flawed oak woodland and watershed initiative inspired us to explore common ground with its sponsors and created the chance for us to cooperate to achieve our common goals,” he said. “Together, we found an approach that we believe will receive widespread support.”

Leaders with other wine industry groups said they were surprised both by the filing and by the fruits of this collaboration. It was clear that they were none-to-happy about the entire episode.

In late September, the Napa Valley Vintners Board of Directors revisited the proposed measure. It announced it wanted a community collaboration to craft yet another version for the November 2018 election.

“We’re focused on a community consensus-building process right now and we’re hoping (Hackett and Wilson) will join us,” Rex Stults of Napa Valley Vintners said.

So was Napa Valley Vintners now actively opposing the measure it had co-authored and filed with Hackett and Wilson? That wasn’t clear. The group in a press release said it had decided to “suspend work” on that version.

Hackett and Wilson moved forward trying to qualify a measure virtually identical to their collaboration with Napa Valley Vintners for the June 5 ballot. Napa County Farm Bureau, Napa Valley Grapegrowers and Winegrowers of Napa County have announced their opposition.