Say NO to the Proposed Water Quality and Tree Protection Ordinance!

Lake Berryessa News Special Report: March 22, 2019

Say NO to the Proposed Water Quality and Tree Protection Ordinance!

 Read the ordinance at:

The Planning Commission has approved it and forwarded it to the Board of Supervisors, where it is scheduled for enactment March 26. 

Here's a Q&A cheat sheet for Napa County's watershed debate:

Napa Planning Commission watershed protection recommendations:

To help stop this flawed ordinance please attend the public hearing on March 26 at 9:00 am at 1195 Third Street, Suite 305, Napa and speak up. Send your comments to the Napa County Board of Supervisors in an email.

Pedroza, Alfredo

Dillon, Diane

 Ryan Gregory

Belia Ramos

Brad Wagenknecht

Planning Manager.


Dear Lake Berryessa News readers, Napa County rural residents, and members and friends of the Lake Berryessa community. 

Please take action to oppose the flawed and unnecessary Napa Water Quality And Tree Protection Ordinance.

Below is my letter to the supervisors as an example. But more important are the well-reasoned letters from George Bacich and Jeffrey Earl Warren. The last letter from George Bacich regarding CEQA is especially meaningful to me because it was the unethical use of NEPA, CEQA, the State Historic Preservation Act, and other irrelevant regulations which helped the Bureau of Reclamation destroy Lake Berryessa recreation and delay the revitalization of the Lake Berryessa region to the present day.


From the Lake Berryessa News

Dear Supervisors,

I ask that you vote against the proposed Napa Water Quality And Tree Protection Ordinance. The Lake Berryessa News strongly opposed the failed Measure C ordinance. This new proposal is simply a rewrite of that failed proposal.

Despite applehood and mother pie statements about the environmental benefits of the original Oak Woodlands Initiative, Measure C was simply an anti-winery, anti-vineyard, anti-growth measure - as is the new proposal before you.

I've read the proposed ordinance and it appears to be only slightly less onerous than Measure C, but as unnecessary too. The 3 to 1 tree replacement is excessive, as is the canopy cover requirement. And the climate change argument is irrelevant to the need for such an ordinance except in the fact that the ordinance limits tree removal when it should be trying to limit California's impact on our CO2 footprint caused by continual, massive wild fires. (See letters from George Bacich and Jeffrey Earl Warren below.)

Trying to restrict private property owners' rights, especially those in rural areas, to control development for no compelling environmental benefit is not the right answer. Napa County is already the most protected county in the state, if not the country, and has excellent land use controls already on its books.

Thank you for your attention,

Peter Kilkus

Publisher, The Lake Berryessa News


Dear Napa County Property Owner 

Your property is about to be wrenched from your control. New stream setbacks will damage your property's utility and value, with no compensation. Restrictions will be placed on your right to remove vegetation to protect your property from wildfire. Speak up at the Board of Supervisors meeting on March 26, or forfeit your property rights. 

Napa County is poised to revoke your property rights and damage your property value by enacting the Water Quality and Tree Protection Ordinance. The WQTPO establishes new setbacks of up to 65 feet on both sides of intermittent/ephemeral streams within which roads & structures will be prohibited, and vegetation removal will be prohibited unless mandated by Cal-Fire or allowed by discretionary permit. On the rest of your property you will have to preserve up to 70% of existing underbrush unless removal is mandated by Cal-Fire or approved by discretionary use permit. Discretionary permits will expose you to legal extortion by requiring you to indemnify and defend the County against any environmentalist lawsuits challenging your permit. 

All improvements (water tanks, houses, driveways, vineyards, etc.) will be prohibited on slopes of 30% or more (16.7 degrees). With no rights to improve your property, it will be worthless if not already improved, and your dreams of further improving it will morph into bureaucratic and legal nightmares. 

It is on a fast track to be enacted, and already has great momentum. The Planning Commission has approved it and forwarded it to the Board of Supervisors, where it is scheduled for enactment March 26.

The only way to stop it is with a massive public protest. Please do your part. Attend the public hearing on March 26 at 9:00 am at 1195 Third Street, Suite 305, Napa and speak up, or your property rights may be forever lost. 

Most people still have no idea what is coming or how they will be impacted. By the time they find out, it may be too late if we don't get the public hearing continued. There is plenty to talk about and plenty to be mad about. Come and give them an earful.

1) The voters already rejected these restrictions (Measure C), and now our Planning Commissioners and County Supervisors want to enact them anyway. Why aren't they honoring the decision of the voters?

2) They are pandering to no-growthers and Nimbys under the guise of protecting the environment.

3) They are seizing private property without even warning the owners, beyond a small notice in a newspaper that no one reads anymore. This is unconscionable.

4) They are not even interested in hearing about the harm they are doing, and are certainly not interested in quantifying it or understanding its magnitude. They could not care less about us.

5) By making it economically unfeasible for small producers to get started, they are destroying family agriculture and ensuring that Napa County will soon have only corporate vineyards and wineries, a complete destruction of Napa County's local farming culture.

6) They are totally ignoring the greatest environmental hazard we face, namely fiercer and more frequent wildfires.

7) They are bullies, trampling private property rights and completely and willfully ignoring the costs and burdens imposed on their taxpaying citizens in order to appease a few very vocal radical environmentalists.

8) They are disingenuously citing climate change as a compelling reason to protect every tree, when properly combatting climate change requires the exact opposite. The carbon footprint of this ordinance will be huge because it discourages (prohibits!) fire hazard reduction. Those who believe it is essential to sequester carbon in our forests certainly must know what happens to that sequestered carbon during a fire. If the vegetation is dense enough, the entire forest is destroyed, releasing its entire lifetime accumulation of sequestered carbon in a day. Wildfires are not just a hypothetical possibility. We will definitely continue having fires, and they are apparently increasing in scope and intensity. Those truly interested in sequestering carbon should be working to protect the forests from fire, rather than forbidding property owners from doing the necessary work. Major forest thinning, underbrush removal, chaparral removal, and creation of periodic clearings/firebreaks/vineyards are the best way (probably the only way) to protect our forests and their sequestered carbon. This ordinance is written specifically to prohibit the tasks that will be essential to maintaining the current sequestered carbon supply.

9) They don't seem to care about inflicting extreme financial damage on property owners and destroying their plans and dreams.

10) They don't seem to care about discouraging good stewardship. They ignore the fact that government cannot do all the required work, and that property owners are going to have to be recruited and encouraged to do it, not prohibited from doing it.

12) They don't seem to care about inflicting greater wildfire damage on us and on the environment.

13) They have been bamboozled into thinking this ordinance is what the majority of people in Napa County want. It is up to us to convince them they are wrong. Come on down and show them how you feel.

14) Napa's natural environment is already in good shape. We are not losing our forests, we already have good land management/erosion control policies. We are already the most regulated agricultural county in the country.

15) This ordinance is not in response to any real environmental problem. It is purely and simply a response to political pressure. Let's show them what real political pressure looks like. Come and tell them what you think of their grand plan to defraud you out of your property value and your property rights.

George Bachich


Napa Has Too Many Trees by Jeffrey Earl Warren

Ask any forester. She will tell you it's true. Napa, like the rest of the west, has too many trees.  

Tree density per acre varies from the Rockies, the Northwest, the Sierras to Napa Valley. Google "How many trees per acre a healthy forest should have," and you'll find that every area of the West currently has 5 to 10 times more trees per acre than there were when Lewis and Clark reached the coast. 

According to forester, Ralph Osterling, our Western hills should have around 80 to 100 trees per acre. Currently, we have somewhere between 500 to 800 trees per acre. This is unhealthy.    

That's why this watershed fight is so wrong. First: Citizens defeated Measure C. To re-create "Measure C light" by administrative means, makes a mockery of democracy. It's unethical to favor partisan groups who lost at the ballot box.

Second:  The abject ignorance of those advocating for increased "canopy cover" is not only silly, it is "unnatural" and actually dangerous to a healthy environment. 

Some advocate increasing tree canopies from 60% to  70% or even 90%. This is counter productive. In an email, forester Ralph Osterling (Google him) wrote, "The forest should be a mix of openings, brush and trees. Oak grassland forests types should have less than 50% crown cover which translates to per acre about 5 trees with 100' canopy and 62 trees with 30' canopy. Now, take those tree counts and cut them in half to meet 50% crown cover.

Continuous tree and brush canopy equals continuous hot fuels and fires as we witnessed. The ordinance should require tree and fuel removal not the reverse. Eliminating trees and brush will increase ground water and springs will reemerge. 

If we want to protect our watershed, what we need is a realization that in order to prevent another ecological disaster, we need proper forest management-not additional canopy cover. We don't need an ordinance which dis-incentivizes land owners from managing their over-dense forests - and prevents people from cutting trees over 5 inches in diameter, or limits forest management to 10% of trees per acre. 

We may need to eliminate 50% to 80% of the trees per acre. Not clear cut, mind you. Judicious thinning of excess growth is what is needed.  

According to Lynn Webber's History of the Napa Valley in 1824, when Altimura, first laid eyes on the Napa Valley, he deemed it perfect for cattle because there was no underbrush for cows to get tangled up in. Lighting occasionally caused "natural forest fires," but more important, (according to Henry T. Lewis in his seminal work, Patterns of Indian Burning in California) Indians burned on a regular basis. They did it for a myriad of reasons; from crop management, to making it easier to find acorns.  They did it every year.    

That's why when George Yount arrived in 1834 there was almost no "understory" to fuel fires. The understory that is clogging our forests, not only robs nutrients form normal healthy trees and blocks sunlight, this same understory provides a "step ladder" effect in the event of fire. Fire climbs up the little stuff an burns the bigger trees. This is why talk of 40% "shrub retention" is not only ludicrous it is dangerous-as we've recently experienced.          

Cal Fire has now recognized the importance of healthy forests to prevent catastrophic conflagrations. According to the Mountain Area Safety Task force: The problem fire protection officials face is that not only does green vegetation burn, the forest is overstocked - 100 to 200 trees per acre, where a healthy forest has 40 to 60 trees per acre. Thinning green vegetation not only reduces the fire danger, it also frees up resources for the remaining plants and trees, making them more healthy, restoring their vigor and making them more resistant to fire as well as infestation by bark beetles and other parasites.     

A secondary benefit from healthy forests is more water for our rivers and streams. An ancient Redwood can soak up from between 1,000 to 2,000 gallons per day. A mature oak tree hundreds of gallons per day during the dry months. Because our Western Hills have trees of all types and all ages, no one has been able to give me an accurate account of what an average acre of madrone, pine, oak, Douglas firs, Redwoods, et al soaks up daily. Yet, if we have 5 to 10 times too many trees per acre, that means 5 to 10 times as much water is being soaked up by trees and not going into our springs, creeks and rivers.  (Trees shut down in October, which is why we see puddles in creeks and small increases in river flows-though there has been no rain all summer long).

Lastly, let's stop all talk of "we have to do our part to fight climate change." Carbon sequestrations? Due to the Ag Preserve, we have done more to combat climate change, and enhance carbon sequestration than any county in the country. When we came here in the '50's zoning was one home per acre! The Ag Preserve limits urbanization to one home per 40 acres on the flat and one home per 160 acres in the hills.     

Now we have 45,000 acres of vines (all which sequester carbon) instead of 45,000 homes, which would have been perfectly legal. This restriction means rural land owners have done more than their share to combat climate change.      

Lastly, no development over 30%? Thirty percent of Napa County (170,000 acres) is over 30% slope.  But (by definition) that means 100% of the land in the hills! That effectively halts almost ALL development in the hills. If that isn't a taking, what is?

As to setbacks from the tiny dry creeks that begin in the hills, my father's home is on 13 acres. If we followed the proposed setbacks we would have less than two acres usable.

How much more do you want us to give up? We all want a healthy watershed.  Current rules and regulations have made that possible.  The beauty you see today is because of policies rural people abided by yesterday. What we've done is working.  

The proof is in the pudding. Please stop discriminating against country folks.  Rural lives matter!


CEQA nightmare at your door.

The dirty little secret of the Water Quality and Tree Protection Ordinance (WQTPO) is that it quietly imposes the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) on private homeowners. The WQTPO is the Trojan horse that brings CEQA into your back yard by requiring you to get discretionary permits to build or to clear brush.

CEQA applies to discretionary permits but not to ministerial permits. Ministerial permits must be granted by right if the applicant's project meets specific objective standards, such as the California Building Code. Building permits have always been ministerial, thus not subject to CEQA. Currently, if your house plans meet code, you are entitled to your permit by right, without needing a negative declaration or environmental impact report.

Discretionary permits are granted only if the permitting authority subjectively determines that your project meets all the arbitrary requirements and concessions it demands in order to grant you a CEQA negative declaration, or alternatively, only if you include all the mitigation measures required by your environmental impact report. Use permits, always discretionary, must currently be obtained for any project not specifically allowed by the zoning ordinance, such as a new winery or vineyard in one of the ag zones.

Despite the good intentions of CEQA to keep new projects respectful of the environment, it often becomes a political weapon wielded by no-growthers, NIMBYs, or irate neighbors to prohibit development or to delay it and make it too expensive to pursue.

Currently, a permit for a new vineyard takes two years and costs hundreds of thousands of dollars. Any legal challenge to the environmental impact report can double or triple the time and cost. CEQA has also been used to bludgeon grape farmers into granting permanent conservation easements over much of their land (70,000 acres so far) as one of the conditions required for approval to farm the rest of it.

The WQTPO brings these bureaucratic nightmares to your doorstep by making your residential building or brush clearing permit discretionary if you try to build or clear brush in the areas this ordinance seizes. If your new home, deck, driveway, garage, barn, or room addition is within one of the many thousands of new setbacks the ordinance creates, you will be required to get a use permit to build. You will also need a use permit to clear underbrush for fire hazard reduction within your setbacks or to clear more than 30 percent of the underbrush on the rest of your property if that work is not mandated by Cal Fire.

Even if the county wishes to enforce this new regulation only in egregious cases, it is legally bound by CEQA on all discretionary permits and, thus, vulnerable to lawsuits to force strict compliance. Radical elements have sued Napa County over this in the past and won. As a result, every permit applicant must now sign an indemnity requiring the property owner to pay all costs of defending the county if it gets sued for granting the permit.

If you lack the deep pockets required to fund that legal battle, you will have to surrender your permit or lose in court by default. This leaves you forced to beg the person or group who sued the county to withdraw the lawsuit. You will have to meet all their demands or find some way to placate them, or you won't get to build or cut your brush. The WQTPO, thus, gives anyone willing to sue total control over what you get to do on your own property.

George Bach                       © Peter Kilkus 2018