Napa County watershed rejected by courts over petition error

By John Myers | Mar 16, 2017

SAN FRANCISCO — The 1st District Court of Appeal in California has sent a local environmentalist group back to the drawing board.

On Feb. 28, according to a report by the Napa Valley Register, the appellate court ruled that the California Native Plant Society's proposed Water, Forest and Oak Woodland Protection Measure does not comply with California's full-text requirement for any new bills or legislation to be added to the county ballot.

If approved, according to court documents, the initiative would have amended the county's general plan and code to create water-quality buffer zones within the agricultural watershed zoning district and prohibit timber removal from within those zones. In addition, the initiative would establish a permit program for oak-tree removal on a parcel 5 acres or more in the agricultural watershed zones and impose penalties to violations of these rules.

“The goal is to limit the amount of hillside grading in the area,” Dan Glusemcamp, executive director of the CNSP, told the Northern California Record. “When you start doing hillside grading, that effect starts to create erosion and that erosion has an impact on the overall water quality of the area. And those effects can reduce the water availability, and that is so important to Napa County's economy.”

The initiative has been opposed by several area organizations including the Napa Valley Vintners, Napa County Farm Bureau, Winegrowers of Napa County and Napa Valley Grapegrowers who, according to a Napa Valley Register article, have said that they feel the county already has stringent requirements for preserving the local watershed.

Although the petition to get the initiative on the ballot had nearly twice the necessary number of signatures, the appeals court ruled that despite including 18 pages of the initiative, the petition failed to include an appendix detailing certain aspects of the voluntary oak-management plan.

“Registered voters accepted the initiatives, and it was rejected over some quibbles and sent back to us back by the courts,” Glusemcamp said.

As for what this ruling means for the future of the initiative, Glusemcamp said the organization still has core goals for moving forward with the project.

“At this point in time we have staggered our goals; the simplest goal is that we want the democratic process returned to the people of Napa County,” he said. “The next step up from that is that we want the voters in Napa County to vote as they have before to protect the watershed and make Napa a better place. We think continued infrastructure development threatens the quality of life in California, so we are working statewide to maintain the watershed.”

Glusemcamp said the CNSP is debating whether to escalate the issue to a higher court.

"In the past, we have had many surceases with these kinds of escalations," he said. "We might have to start with an awareness campaign before we return to the courts, though."

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