Land Use, Wineries, Events and Supervisors….oh my!

Nine hours at the District Auditorium at today’s special Board of Supervisors/Planning Commission meeting. I’m not sure it was the best use of time, but I think it was instructive.

At one point, after about two hours of public comment, I went out to my car to do a quick errand.  Bloomberg radio was on, and in the brief time I was in the car, I listened to a story about business Apps for the new Apple Watch.  The analyst was talking about how the watch, particularly for sales professionals and sales managers, would be far superior to their iPhones. Instead of having to “waste the time to take the phone out of their pockets 20+ times a day,” they would only have to glance at their wrists to get the information that needed to make sales and pricing decisions.  This would, I was assured, lead to time saving and great productivity gains for salespeople.

I’m not sure I see the immediate value of this, but I do know that it’s what technology is supposed to do, and I accept it will be the case, sooner, if not later.

From hearing this story, I walked back into the District Auditorium to hear the usual suspects pleading for a return to the 1970’s.  People with not a clue about the Wine Business, the marketing business, the hospitality business or any profit making enterprise.  These were people, caught up in the emotion of change and of losing a time gone by.  They saw no connection between their primitive emotions and any business school case study they might be shown.

They were, as I said, the usual suspects.  The environmental nut jobs and the NIMBYs.  They were either names we’ve all heard a hundred times before, or they were from Circle Oaks or Atlas Peak or Soda Canyon, Yountville Hill or near the Davies project in St. Helena.  All  places where there are projects pending.

The rest?  Well as usual there was Eve Kahn, Ginny Simms, Duane Cronk, Diane Shep, Moira Johnston and the ever peripatetic and tiresome Chris Malan.  For all of them, different time, same channel.  A little like the movie “Groundhog Day.”

As for the wine industry, it was their usual passive aggressive, carefully calibrated and nuanced positions, as usual, not wanting to rock the boat.  The Vintners, the Grapegrowers, the Winegrowers, Rick Jones, all wanting to say the right words of environmental support, make nice and make sure there would be no moratorium or no real action on the part of the BOS.  I guess they don’t remember Dante’s admonition that “the hottest place in hell is reserved for those, who in times of crisis, remain neutral.”

The highlight of the day came with the presentation by Napa County Planning Director David Morrison, whose PowerPoint was the singular best evidence yet that we are doing everything right.  For a moment, in the presentation, before the naysayers and “nattering nabobs of negativism” started up, you felt good about being a part of the Napa Valley.

If  you understand, as Tom Davies of Sattui pointed out, that agriculture begets wineries, that then the economic success of wineries strengthens the protection of agriculture and that all combined, it supports food and hospitality, and that all together it’s the fulcrum of the Valley’s economic engine, then you have to wonder where was the rest of the County today.

About fifteen years ago, the last time these issues came to a head, there was at least opposition from people like George Bachich and some other property rights folks. These groups battled the Farm Bureau at the time, as was documented in Jim Conaway’s THE FAR SIDE OF EDEN.

Today, with the exception of Stu Smith, these folks were nowhere to be found.  And worse yet, at today’s meeting, arguably about the future and soul of the Valley, there were no restaurateurs, no celebrity chefs, no hotel managers, no retailers, no shopping center developers, and with the exception of Pam Simpson of St. Helena, no Chamber representatives.  Where were the people whose lifeblood depends on the business these naysayers were trying to curtail?

What I never heard expressed today, is the foundational idea of Napa Valley’s success. There are many tourist destinations around the world.  Their sole mission is to attract visitors to a place. Sometimes for its beaches, its art, its skiing, its shopping or its antiquities. All single purpose goals!

Napa specifically and wine and food tourism in general, is uniquely different.  Its attraction, cuts a broad path through food, wine, viticulture and the arts. But people who travel just to see art, or antiques, or buildings, or beaches, seldom get to meet the creators of those objects.  Wine tourism and Napa as it’s penultimate manifestation, is built on the idea of an intimate relationship between visitor and creator.  The winemaker, the chef, the artist, the vintner.  This is engagement tourism, experiential tourism and it’s the future.

Those who benefit need to wake up.  Most of the people who presented today were on autopilot, delivering their usual three minute sermons.  The BOS and the planning commission, with the exception of the clueless Matt Pope who just looked lost and the extreme views expressed by Mark Luce, seem to get it.  Their deliberations seemed to reinforce that.  We’ll see. In the meantime, that new Apple Watch will make it more productive to tweet from the next joint meeting.