At Risk in Napa County
Since 1971, Volker Eisele has grown grapes on his land in St. Helena. Volker, who served on the Greenbelt Alliance Board of Directors for many years, has no time for sentimentality. He remains a staunch fighter against sprawl and was the driving force behind Measure J, Napa County’s landmark agricultural initiative that helped nurture its wine industry.
Measure J, approved in 1990, requires a two-thirds vote of county residents before agricultural land can be developed for anything other than agricultural uses. “If you analyze each step we have developed, it doesn’t look like much,” he says. “It’s the combined attributes that make a difference.” He adds, “Napa is swimming against the trend. When everyone else was developing, we put in the growth control measure.”
In 2008, the measure was renewed as Measure P, protecting the county’s rural character for another 50 years. “It passed with two-thirds of the vote, which shows the general consensus of the community,” he says. As a result of this long history of protection, Napa County has the lowest level of at risk land in the region, with only 1% of its acreage at risk of development. Volker is concerned about park closures, the loss of public land, and the growth of rural estates. Agricultural land in Napa County, unfortunately, is often sold into 100 to 200 acre parcels for large estate homes. While growth at this scale may not seem significant, rural development that breaks up landscapes—for example, with fences around private lots—prevents wildlife migration and makes food production unrealistic.