Barry Eberling, NAPA VALLEY REGISTER
An appeals court has upheld Napa County’s rejection of a proposed Water, Forest and Oak Woodland Protection Measure that backers had wanted to appear on last November’s ballot.
California’s First District Court of Appeal has issued a decision making it harder for backers of a controversial watershed and oak protection initiative to place their measure before voters. The three-judge panel in a Tuesday decision agreed with the county that the initiative petition had a fatal, if technical, flaw. Backers might have to once again go to shopping centers and gather a few thousand signatures if they want to move forward.
“I believe our group is stronger than ever,” Angwin resident and initiative backer Mike Hackett said on Thursday. “I think we’re determined to put a measure on the ballot about the protection of our water resources and trees.”
Backers are considering options, Hackett said. Possibilities include appealing the Court of Appeal decision to the California Supreme Court and circulating an amended initiative petition.
Whatever route they take, Hackett said the goal is to have a measure on the June 2018 ballot. Napa County has no elections before then.
“We will not be deterred,” he said.
The Water, Forest and Oak Woodland Protection Measure wades into an ongoing community debate about allowing hillside vineyards and other large developments amid forests in the county’s mountains. It would strengthen stream setback laws, limit the cutting of oaks and, in some cases, require county-issued permits to cut oaks.
Napa Valley Vintners, Napa County Farm Bureau, Winegrowers of Napa County and Napa Valley Grapegrowers oppose it. The groups said that the county already has strong watershed protection laws.
Volunteers gathered 6,298 signatures last year, more than the 3,791 needed to qualify the measure for the November 2016 ballot. But Napa County voided the petition on a technicality.
The 18-page initiative petition circulated by proponents referenced an appendix in the 2010 Napa County Voluntary Oak Woodland Management Plan. But it didn’t include a copy of the appendix.
Whether it should have or not is the crux of the legal dispute. State law requires initiative petitions to include a full text of the proposed law, so people thinking of signing can make an informed decision.
Read more at: Appeals court backs Napa County in watershed initiative dispute | Local News | napavalleyregister.com
Eric Biber, LEGAL PLANET
A recent controversy highlights the impacts of wine industry on native California oak woodlandsA popular San Luis Obispo county winemarker is suffering a backlash in restaurants after press reports that the winemaker bulldozed oak woodlands to expand production—possibly in violation of a county land grading ordinance.
The dispute (as this Wine Enthusiast piece makes clear) is not a novel one. There is a long history of winemakers in California converting oak woodlands to vineyards, with potentially substantial impacts on native species habitat.
Conversion of oak woodlands to agricultural use is, in fact, one of the areas where state environmental law does not provide much protection. Conversion of coniferous forests is covered by the California Forest Practices Act, which imposes regulatory requirements on conversion of timberlands to other uses. Conversion of oak woodlands to other uses besides agricultural uses requires review under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) for conversion activities. Cal. Pub. Res. Code § 21083.4. CEQA requires not just a public review of the potential environmental impacts of those conversions, but may also require mitigation of those impacts. However, there is an exemption in this CEQA provision for conversion to agricultural uses.
There are two main ways in which oak woodlands might still receive some protection from conversion to agricultural uses.
First, if federally or state listed endangered animal species are present, then federal or state endangered species protections might apply. If state listed endangered plant species are present, then the habitat might also be protected from conversion—though there is some uncertainty about the scope of these protections, and whether agricultural conversions are fully covered by them. However, many oak woodlands are not habitat for any listed federal or state species.
Second, if a local government imposes some sort of discretionary restriction on land conversion—such as requiring planning commission review of conversion of oak woodlands to agricultural uses—then CEQA would apply to that review process. Of course, that depends on local governments imposing restrictions on land conversion to agricultural uses, something that varies greatly from county to county. (For instance, San Luis Obispo County apparently does not protect oak woodlands.)
Oak woodlands are an important and threatened component of the natural heritage of California—and can be habitat for a wide range of native species. Yet they have been significantly damaged by agricultural conversion, particularly for wine. California native oaks—already under attack by a rapidly expanding disease epidemic—may face even greater threats in the future. If non-medical commerce in marijuana is legalized by the voters this fall, we might see substantial expansion of marijuana cultivation at the expense of California’s oaks. It may be time for the state legislature to look at stronger protections for them.
Source: Oak woodlands and wine | Legal Planet
Karen Velie, CAL COAST NEWS.COM
In the rolling hills that surround northern San Luis Obispo County communities, some farmers have planted grapes among the oaks. Locally, there has been an emphasis on stewardship of the land and protecting the oaks.
Almost 20 years ago, amid concerns sparked when the owners of Kendall Jackson winery bulldozed 843 oaks to create a vineyard in Santa Barbara County, the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors discussed enacting an oak tree ordinance. However, a group of local farmers argued against the ordinance because they thought it would be onerous and in the past farmers had avoided clear cutting large swatches of oak trees.
But now, a group of farmers and San Luis Obispo County Supervisor Debbie Arnold say it is time to reconsider adopting an oak tree ordinance.
Prompted by the cutting of thousands of oak trees along with plans to create a 20-acre-foot agricultural reservoir that will drain millions of gallons of water out of the ground during a time of drought, many North County farmers no longer believe we can trust local property owners to self-regulate.
“This is the third property they have deforested,” said Matt Trevisan, with Linne Calodo Winery. “It is thousands of trees not hundreds. There is a bully in our county and they need to leave.”
Justin Vineyards and Winery, a company owned by Stewart and Lynda Resnick, violated a county code when it failed to get the permit required to grade on slopes in excess of 30 percent. Their company did submit a permit application for the construction of the water storage pond. However, the permit application stated no trees would be removed as a result of constructing the pond.
County staff responded to the violations with a stop work order.
“I am committed to providing more protection for our beautiful, native oaks,” Arnold said. “It is unfortunate we have to enact expensive and onerous regulation because not all landowners respect this amazing resource.”
Arnold said she contacted county Administrator Dan Buckshi and asked him to begin the process of bringing an oak tree ordinance proposal to the Board of Supervisors.
Following the clear cutting of oaks by Kendall Jackson winery, Santa Barbara County enacted an oak tree ordinance. That ordinance exempts oaks that are dead, within 50 feet of a home or are deemed dangerous. Property owners are then limited from removing more than a set amount of non-exempt oaks per acre, such as no more than 11 oak trees from a property between 800 to 899 acres.
“My goal is to bring forward an ordinance that includes common sense exemptions,” Arnold said. “I feel we need protection from this kind of abuse.”
While many bemoan the loss of our county’s forested lands, Resnicks neighbors fear the Resnicks will drain underground water sources to fill their reservoir, leaving their neighbors without the vital resource. And while several supporters of the failed Paso Robles water district claim its passage would have stopped the deforestation, the land Resnick recently deforested is outside the Paso Robles Basin’s boundaries.
Read more at: Resnicks’ deforestation ignites battle
Barry Eberling, NAPA VALLEY REGISTER
There are local and state efforts afoot to protect oak woodlands. This oak vista can be found along the trails in Moore Creek Park, which has blue oak, valley oak, black oak and more.
Supporters of a proposed initiative to further protect oak woodlands and watersheds have filed a lawsuit that argues Napa County wrongly rejected it for the November ballot.
They are asking the Napa County Superior Court to require Registrar of Voters John Tuteur to present the initiative to the Board of Supervisors. Supervisors would then have to either adopt the initiative as law or place it on the Nov. 8 ballot.
Napa County has yet to file a reply to the lawsuit, which was filed Wednesday on behalf of initiative proponents Michael Hackett and James Wilson.
Tuteur on June 5 certified the initiative petition as having enough valid signatures to qualify for the ballot. But in a June 9 memorandum, he rejected the petition on technical grounds.
“We are disappointed, surprised, dismayed – you can pick the adjective,” Angwin resident Hackett said on Thursday.
But he had no bitter words for either Tuteur or County Counsel Minh Tran. “These are all good people,” Hackett said. “There is nothing personal here.”
At issue is the amount of information that initiative proponents made available as they gathered signatures at local shopping centers and other locations.
Read more at: Backers of oak woodlands initiative sue Napa County | Local News | napavalleyregister.com