If developers want to cut down trees to plant vineyards in Napa
County, they’ll have to offset the lost forestland by funding local
projects and programs that reduce carbon emissions.
That’s the upshot of a plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions
in the county’s unincorporated areas the county Planning Commission
unanimously approved Wednesday. It will go before the Board of
Supervisors for a vote in late March.
The plan’s goal is to reduce emissions by 2020 to a level 15
percent below the level measured in 2005. In Napa County, state
government measures that will increase fuel efficiency in vehicles
and other devices and boost renewable-energy use are expected to
account for 70 percent of the county’s reduction.
The remaining 30 percent will come from 35 actions the county
plans to take to improve its transit and bikeway networks,
encourage carpooling, promote dense, mixed-use developments and
require developers to offset their projects’ carbon emissions.
The most significant is the offset program, which will account
for 14 percent of the total reduction. Steve Lederer, the director
of the county’s Department of Environmental Management, said he
envisions it as a bank in which vineyard and commercial developers
could pay in and fund local projects or programs that reduce
For every proposed development, be it a vineyard or a townhome,
developers would have to complete a checklist to evaluate the
project’s emissions, and then identify ways to reduce those
emissions by 38 percent, factoring in state and county measures
already in place that apply to the project. Paying into the offset
program would be an effective way to accomplish that, Lederer
That could mean paying for the installation of renewable-energy
generators, planting vegetation, setting up ride-share programs,
among a bevy of other possibilities. The plan creates an
opportunity to develop the offset program, and Lederer said grants
are available to subsidize its creation.
More importantly, Planning Director Hillary Gitelman said, the
offset program would discourage developers from cutting down
forestland because they would be responsible for paying to mitigate
The plan makes developing forestland more expensive because
forests are able to capture a higher amount of carbon emissions
than grass land or other natural terrain in the county. Gitelman
said that would push development away from the forests.
“It is not going to stop vineyard development,” Gitelman said.
“It is a net cost to the applicant.”
At Wednesday’s meeting, Gitelman highlighted this part of the
plan to answer criticism from an environmental group, which said
the plan doesn’t analyze the environmental impacts of deforestation
and fails to adequately address the loss of forestland.
Chris Malan, manager of Earth Defense for the Environment Now,
told commissioners that the plan should be adopted, but said the
offset program is inadequate to replace lost forestland. She also
said more details are needed to ensure the program is a publicly
transparent process. Gitelman agreed.
“Our best hedge against climate warming is protecting our
natural resources,” Malan said. “If you’re losing a forest, you
should replace it with a forest.”
John Stephens, also a member of EDEN, was sharper in his
criticism of the plan.
“The climate action plan as it stands now is merely an
accounting practice,” Stephens said. “Our need is for a greener
world, not a wine-stained one.”
Anne Steinhauer of the Napa Valley Vintners expressed concerns
that the checklist needed to be refined to ensure it could be
easily used. She said her association wants to be certain that it
won’t require developers to hire another consultant just to handle
“Let’s do this in such a way that it is not a burden on the
economic basis of this county,” Steinhauer said.
Steinhauer also said credits should be given to vineyardists who
have implemented environmentally sustainable programs or practices
since 2005, such as Napa Green. Those credits would be counted in
offsetting emissions from new developments the vineyards may want
The commissioners agreed, and directed county planning staff to
include this provision in the plan. In voting to approve the plan,
the commissioners noted that it will be changed as it is
implemented, but cited an urgency to get it in place.
“What resonates with me is, ‘We have to have a plan,’”
Commissioner Michael Basayne said. “I do believe this is a
pioneering plan. There’s a lot more work that has to be done.”