In Search of a Land Ethic: The Grand Coalition

On Tuesday afternoon, January 20, 2015, The Grand Coalition of Napa County met. Fifty of us sat around a square assemblage of tables representing ten citizen groups who have been addressing land use issues in Napa County over these last years. Some have formed non-profits which hired experts and attorneys to address some of the developing problems of incursion of vineyards and wineries into the oak woodlands and forests. Others have worked over years to preserve the natural environment. Many of us are advocating clear standards to keep the Ag Preserve for agriculture, and not for so-called commercial “event centers” with hundreds of visitors at all hours of day and night.

As we sat around the table, reps from each group gave a brief account of their interests and actions. We worked to find common ground upon which to go forward. Seasoned land use advocates, including past members of the Board of Supervisors, imparted their wisdom: We must be fact based. Do not presume the other side, whichever that side is, is the enemy!

The high energy in the room coalesced into forming a steering committee. A member from each group will meet next week to make a mission statement and define a doable agenda. All of us agreed about the importance of attending Board of Supervisors and Planning Commission Meetings as often as possible. About picketing projects that degrade the environment. About making ourselves known as citizens of Napa County who stand for preserving the natural beauty and health of our ecosystems.

There are, of course, demons we can each recognize within ourselves. We live in a culture where productivity and growth are seen as the gold standard. Where beauty is to be exploited for profit. Where the rich have been able to strong arm decisions about land use under the guise of property rights, regardless of the impact on the environment and future generations.

Find common ground, the seasoned member chastened. Do not make enemies here. The other side is not your enemy.

The enemy is really within and confronting him or her requires confronting she or he who makes bargains with the devil: after all, if we cut back on building in the hillsides to protect the ecosystems, we risk hurting the tourist economy of our Napa Valley—and so on.

But there is common ground, and we all share it— a common ground that is becoming more obvious under the pressure of the severe drought: that of the watersheds. Without healthy watersheds, we are doomed. Our water supplies will suffer, along with the native plants and animals dependent on springs, creeks, and rivers. Our best agenda is to learn to tend those arteries of life which sustain us, regardless of the sacrifices.

In the next weeks I will explore this issue of sustainability, interviewing several ecologists, farmers, and government officials as to their own ideas of what is a sustainable environment. It is an idea that has been hijacked by corporate interests, and yet, it is a principle we need to examine without personal bias and intention. And please share your own ideas about watersheds, land use, and sustainability.