The Preservation Celebration honoring 50 years of the napa county agricultural preserve

We’re celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Agricultural Preserve here in Napa County. Because of this special milestone, we will share stories about the preserve and its continued impact to our community in a social media campaign over the next 50 days leading up to April 9 -- the day the ordinance was enacted five decades ago.

We hope you enjoy reading these stories that highlight Napa County’s ongoing role in protecting this historical zoning ordinance and honor one of the most unique land use policies nationwide.

(Graphic credit: Matt Lamborn/Napa County)

What is the Agricultural Preserve?

The Agricultural Preserve, highlighted in green, is a landmark zoning ordinance that reflects a commitment to agriculture as the “highest and best use” of most of the land outside of the local town and cities.

This means if you have visited Napa County, and traveled along Highway 29 to reach wineries, vineyards, hotels, and restaurants, you’ve been in the Preserve.

The preserve exists because of the visionary leadership and forethought of the Napa County Board of Supervisors and the Planning Commission.

The debate about the ordinance began in 1966 and lasted for two years.

The initial ordinance dictated that agriculture was the only activity allowed in these areas and set minimum lot sizes that prevented further subdivision of parcels, which inhibits urbanization and encourages farming. The 20-acre minimum in the Ag Preserve and 40-acre minimum in the Ag Watershed were later increased to 40 acres and 160 acres, respectively. Initially, the ordinance protected 26,000 acres of land from Napa to Calistoga. Today, 31,609 acres are contained within the preserve, and no land has ever been removed.

It’s why Napa County looks the way it does today.

The 1968 Napa County Board of Supervisors

L to R: Supervisor Henry Wigger, Supervisor Pete Clark, Supervisor Jack Ferguson, Supervisor Dewey Andersen, and Supervisor Julius Caiocca, Jr.

On April 9, 1968, the Napa County Board of Supervisors passed the ordinance that created the first Agricultural Preserve in the United States and would go into effect 30 days later. This preserved open space and prevented overdevelopment – ensuring that Napa County’s limited resources are preserved for agriculture first and foremost.

Board members at the time were Henry Wigger, Pete Clark, Jack L. Ferguson, Dewey Andersen, and Julius Caiocca.

During a time when news outlets focused on the Vietnam War, the local front pages were dominated by Ag Preserve coverage. More than 200 people voiced their concerns about the new zoning proposal in a standing room only crowd at a Planning Commission meeting in the cafeteria at Redwood Junior High School.

The Ag Preserve discussion was met with opposition from some who felt “…The use of the broad powers of both the Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors should be tempered,” and that the preserve was “brutally unfair and confiscatory zoning,” according to news coverage at the time.

Then-Supervisor Ferguson made the first official motion, seconded by Supervisor Wigger. Ferguson told The Napa Register and the Napa Journal that he felt the ordinance reflected the wishes of a majority of Napa County residents.

“This is a bold forward step for Napa County and perhaps unprecedented in the United States; but I believe it is the expression of the will of the people,” Ferguson told the paper.

“This is being done to preserve the agricultural character of the valley,” said Louis P. Martini in a 1968 KPIX-TV Eyewitness news report. Martini would go to argue that if the Ag Preserve was not passed, the county would look much like Santa Clara Valley with a “very definite and concentrated” population.

The Napa Valley United Farmers would go on to challenge the ordinance in court, and three years later the Superior Court upheld the validity of Ordinance #274.

The 2018 Napa County Board of Supervisors

L to R: Supervisor Alfredo Pedroza, Supervisor Belia Ramos, Supervisor Brad Wagenknecht, Supervisor Ryan Gregory, and Supervisor Diane Dillon

Measure J

As enacted in 1990, Measure J amended the Napa County General Plan to ensure that designated agricultural, watershed, and open space lands could not be redesignated and made available for more intensive development without a vote of the people. The California Supreme Court declared that Measure J represented a reasonable attempt to ensure greater stability in land use policy, curb haphazard growth by channeling it toward already developed areas, and promote desired land uses. The Court also found that the voters could and should be trusted to keep the General Plan up to date in the future.

It was a landmark decision confirming the people’s right to enact general plan amendments by initiative.

Measure P

In 2008, voters approved Measure P, which extended Measure J’s provisions for another 50 years and ensured that its implementation would be flexible enough to make certain that Napa County meets its future obligations under state affordable housing laws.

The adoption of the initiative commemorated the 40th anniversary of the “Agricultural Preserve” zoning designation, reaffirming the County’s long-term commitment to protection of agriculture, open space, watershed lands, and the quality of life that makes Napa County Unique.

As a result of the initiative, the provisions were extended until Dec. 31, 2058. The initiative proponents were Melvyn Varrelman, Ron Taddei, Al Wagner, and Volker Eisele, who also wrote Measure J.

Why Napa County looks the way it does

An aerial comparison of the Napa Valley in 1940 and 2005
An aerial comparison of the Santa Clara Valley in 1940 and 2005

Pictured above are comparison photos that show the Napa and Santa Clara valleys in 1940 – pre-Ag Preserve and those same locations in 2005 – post-Ag Preserve. Simply put, the Agricultural Preserve is why Napa County looks the way it does today. Because the protections are in place to keep it that way.

The Napa County Agricultural Commissioner's Office

Artwork by Hudson Kramer “Picking piece by piece”
Courtesy Photo/Napa County Agricultural Commissioner’s Office

The Napa County Agricultural Commissioner’s Office supports the Ag Preserve through its dedication to sustaining a healthy agricultural industry, while protecting the environment, the agriculture workforce, and the community. Napa County has a reputation as a premier wine-producing region but also has the climate and soils capable of producing many types of exceptional agriculture products.

The Ag Commissioner’s Office is responsible for implementing federal, state, and local regulatory programs within Napa County. These programs include food quality and marketing, pesticide safety, pests and diseases, weights and measures, and wildlife services.

Each year, the office produces the Crop Report, which provides information about the status of agriculture countywide. The report covers the gross production values of crops including fruit & nut, floral & nursery, vegetables, fields, livestock, and poultry & other animal products.

Did you know vineyard crops make up about 9 percent of the 504,450 acres in Napa County?

You can view the report here.

Farmworker Housing

Photo by Nelly Castro Lobovsky/Napa County

The start of any wine begins with the first touch of the grape.

The Napa County agricultural industry forms the backbone of the local economy, with farmworkers playing an important role in creating and sustaining agricultural production.

Here in Napa County, about 6,000 to 8,000 farmworkers help support the $13 billion wine industry. Napa County supports agricultural workers in many ways including literacy and schooling programs.

But one of the most important ways, perhaps, includes managing three centers that seasonally house 180 farmworkers. Before this temporary housing existed, many workers lived in tents or under bridges – creating a serious public health issue. Money for operations comes from the state budget, a local per-acre annual assessment on vineyards, and daily rent paid by lodgers.

Each center is dormitory-style lodging, and residents get three meals a day, literacy, and other training programs.

Napa County is California’s only provider of farmworker housing fully funded by occupant rent and the industry in partnership with local housing funds.

Buy your plants locally

All incoming plants and other host material originating from areas of pest or disease infestation are thoroughly inspected by the Agricultural Commissioner’s Office to help protect Napa County. The introduction of Glassy-winged Sharpshooter (GWSS) is still a potential threat to the health of grapevines. GWSS can spread Xylella fastidiosa, the pathogen which causes the deadly Pierce’s disease.

Out-of-state shipments may contain pests or diseases of economic importance, such as the Gypsy Moth or Japanese Beetle. The state agricultural border stations notify the Napa County Agricultural Commissioner’s Office of incoming shipments. When shipments arrive, they are inspected for pests, general cleanliness, and compliance with all applicable federal, state, and county regulations.

If pests such as GWSS became established they would be difficult and costly to eradicate and losses would be huge. The repercussions would be felt throughout the community as job losses in the vineyard, winery, and tourism industries.

In 2017, the Ag Commissioner’s Office twice discovered a viable GWSS egg mass during a plant shipment inspection. The best way to keep GWSS out of Napa County is to source landscape plants locally which have been grown in Northern California where the pest is not established.

You can call for inspections when you receive green growing grape vines and landscape plants at 707-253-4357.

Pest Detection Programs

Photo by Nelly Castro Lobovsky/Napa County

Napa County’s insect trapping program monitors for invasive pests that can cause potentially devastating crop, forest, and ornamental plant damage. If left unchecked, these pests could cause millions of dollars of damage to agriculture and trigger an increase in pesticide usage within the county. Napa County pest detection trappers place traps throughout the county using species-specific pheromones, food lures, or visual attractors to detect insects of quarantine significance. At the first sign of an invasive pest, actions are taken to ensure that the population does not become established.

Agricultural Container Recycling Program

Courtesy photo / The Napa County Agricultural Commissioner's Office

As part of the Napa County Agricultural Container Recycling Program, staff inspect containers processed by the recycling contractor. The office has held 45 agricultural container recycling events at no cost to growers.

Once the containers are certified clean, they are thrown into the granulator. The containers are granulated into small flakes and blown into large cloth bags. Each bag weighs approximately 1,900 pounds and is ready to be sold to approved manufacturers of recycle plastic products. A number of products can be safely made from the recovered plastic including pallets, field drain pipe, fence posts, marine pilings, and speed bumps, among others.

In 2008, passage of Senate Bill 1723 added a section to the Food and Agricultural Code requiring registrants who sell agricultural or structural use pesticide products in plastic containers to have or participate in a container recycling program.

In the 23 years that the Agricultural Commissioner’s Office has been running the program in Napa county, over 481,000 pounds of plastic has been diverted from the landfill.

Weights and Measures

Each year, the Board of Supervisors recognizes the first week of March as Weights and Measures Week in Napa County. The event, which is honored nationally, commemorates the signing of the first Weights and Measures Law by President John Adams on March 2, 1799. Even though many consumers are rarely aware of them, the use of uniform weights and measures are extremely important to the local commerce because they protect the interest of buyers and sellers and validate the honesty, integrity, and equity of everyday business transactions.

Courtesy photo / Napa County Sealer of Weights and Measures

Under the authority of the Secretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA), each County has an appointed Sealer who is responsible for the enforcement of California Weights and Measures laws and regulations. In Napa County, this function is administered by the Agricultural Commissioner/Sealer’s Office. The Napa County Department of Weights and Measures is divided into several programs to:

• Ensure the accuracy of commercial weighing and measuring devices

• Verify the price, quantity and labeling of packaged and bulk commodities

• Verify quality, advertising and labeling standards for various petroleum products

• Enforce Weighmaster laws to assure accuracy of information on Weighmaster certificates.

The Napa County Sealer of Weights and Measures provides an essential service to the community ensuring consumer confidence in the marketplace, which consists of continuous and systematic testing of many different types of devices to confirm their accuracy. Examples of devices tested include scales, price scanning equipment, propane meters, and more. Staff inspect thousands of devices and conduct thousands of quantity control inspections countywide each year.

Find out more about the Agricultural Preserve

You can find out more about the Agricultural Preserve at napaagpreserve.org.

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