50th Anniversary Napa Valley Agricultural Preserve
How many rural communities, within fifty miles of a major city can say, ‘Not much has changed in the last fifty years’? We’re guessing . . . not too many. It’s a fact of which our Napa Valley can be proud. Although there have been many changes, and undisputed growth of sorts, the agricultural heritage of the Valley remains intact.
In the sixties, wine grapes were the main crop grown in Napa, but there was diversity among others. The list was impressive: apples, prunes, pears, walnuts, barley, hay, oats, wheat, dairy products, and Christmas tree farms, beef cattle and chickens grazed. Grapes led as the cash crop for the Valley and beef came in at a close second. Today, there is no close second. In the mid-sixties, vineyards covered about 14,000 acres; now it’s almost 46,000 acres, which is less than ten percent of the total acreage. (The county area totals 789 square miles, 640 acres equals 1 square mile.)
The Napa Valley Agricultural Preserve would have never come into being if it weren’t for the then-Napa County Assessor, George Abate. Abate noticed assessment scandals in several areas of California prompting new legislation which would regulate the practice of land valuation. (Previously, the California Land Conservation Act of 1965, also known as the Williamson Act, began the restrictions to agricultural use in Napa County. This was accomplished by entering into contracts with local, private landowners. In return, those properties taxes were assessed at a lower rate than normal.) When Abate brought his concerns to the County Administrator, Albert Haberger, the two created a team who would be able to explain the need to pass legislation that would protect county agricultural land. Haberger next enlisted Melvin Lernhart––then Deputy County Counsel––to help draft the first agricultural preserve in America. Jack L. Davies worked under nationally-recognized environmentalist, Dorothy Erskine, as a vocal advocate for the Ag Preserve. Warren Winiarski is among the few remaining champion proponents of the Ag Preserve, then-and-now.
Thanks to the insight and dedication to preserving the agricultural integrity of the Valley, Albert Haberger set out to protect what we had in 1968 with the Agriculture Preserve. It accomplished what must have seemed like an impossibility at the time. On April 9, 1968, Napa County voted in the Agricultural Preserve that stopped the expansion of Napa into a large city. It restricted land use and halted urban growth––until the next vote, in 2058.
Albert Haberger’s daughter, Liz Davis, owner of ALKAR Human Resources, shared memories of her father during the time the Ag Preserve was being fought for, “Growing up in the time of the Ag Preserve, I was only eight years old when it was established. With that said, as I grew up listening to the purpose of the Ag Preserve, I came to respect and appreciate that it is our responsibility, as individuals, and the community, to protect the thing [land] that has allowed us to become the destination we are today. The one thing I do remember clearly is my father saying, ‘If we don’t take care [of the land] we could someday be like Disneyland.’ With all the hotels and restaurants, we are quickly moving in that direction, we don’t have the infrastructure to accommodate the level of tourism we currently are experiencing today.”
Albert Haberger’s visionary concerns heralded issues that have been addressed by a group of ag-interested members of the Napa Valley Vine Trail Coalition Board. With the opening of the Trail, many had concerns for the safety of trail users, as well as drivers, and protecting farmers from the possibility of trespass. This led to the creation of AG RESPECT Napa Valley––a program educating the community through a newly created website, and signs stationed at each Vine Trail kiosk. The signs highlight the importance of each one of us to do our share to preserve the cultural heritage of our Napa Valley––just as Liz Davis grew up learning. The kiosks refer to the Ag Respect Program––a roadside/trailside guide created by a group of like-minded entities.
“AG RESPECT is your roadside/trailside guide to enjoying our roads and trails responsibly - especially where working farms and trails are side-by-side. Respect the farmers. Protect our heritage and future. Love the Land! Whether you bike, walk, run or drive in Napa Valley, we invite YOU to be a partner in AG RESPECT!” (Ag Respect, agrespect.org)
Napa Valley Museum Yountville will present the exhibit, “50 Years of the Napa Valley Agricultural Preserve” July 7 through August 19, 2018. The interactive exhibit will be bilingual (English and Spanish), informing visitors how it started, the battles, and the successes over the last 50 years, and identify options for its future.
There are many people to thank for coming forward with their vision and courage which helped protect our Valley and preserve it for generations to come. If it weren’t for the protection of the Napa Valley Ag Preserve, we might have been exposed to living in an over-populated, industrial, urban environment.
No land has been removed from the preserve since it was established. Many residents believe this was one of the most important steps that could have taken to preserve the resources and natural beauty of the Napa Valley.