Rethinking self interest on initiatives


I am reading with a lot of empathy Leslie Caccamese's letter regarding the Oak Woodlands Watershed Initiative (“Initiative will further enrich the wealthy,” Feb. 20) wherein she bemoans the fact that she received approval for planting only five acres of vines instead of nine on her 12-acre property in the watershed because of a variety of setbacks from historic walls and streams.

As a result, she opted to sell as she "watched her dream fade away." A valued argument at first glance voiced by others as well until one looks at self interest from a wider perspective.

As a Realtor in the Hollywood and Beverly Hills for over 20 years, I devoted five of them contributing to the development of the Mulholland Scenic Corridor Specific Plan, which imposed regulations on the design of homes in order to preserve the spectacular viewshed from this unique 24-mile ridge road that dissects the Los Angeles basin. Try it at night.

Due to the resulting building on the slopes below to preserve views, construction costs increased, causing vacant land owners to cry foul. How wrong they were. Due to the singular views the specific plan preserved, property values reached unprecedented levels in just a few years.

For over 20 years, Bill Hocker's spring-fed pond atop Soda Canyon, above the Rector gorge - the watershed that feeds the Rector reservoir and the town of Yountville - was a unique feature of his property. But in the past few years, the spring kept running dryer and dryer until the pond is now an empty hole. Only a few days ago, the State Water Resources Board sounded the alarm on the diminishing Rector reservoir water levels and on the prospect of imminent water conservation measures in Yountville.

Vineyards are no longer dry-farmed as they were when the Ag Preserve was established; neither were the hordes of tourists and resulting hotels invited by the supervisors when they redefined agriculture to include them just seven years ago. Depending on yields, vineyards of today typically require roughly 50,000 gallons of water per acre or 250,000 gallons for Leslie's five-acre vineyard. Had she been allowed to fulfill her dream, it would have been 450,000 gallons.

Myopic criteria by which increased wine production permits are approved by the Planning Commission relying on environmental impact reports do not consider wide range, long-term impacts. This strains our water infrastructure to unsustainable levels on; not to mention carrying road capacities and other resources.

When the city of Yountville will need to purchase water from other sources (assuming they are available) for tourists’ showers and irrigated vineyards, it will have to pass those increases on to its residents. Calistoga and St. Helena have already done so. Is such a trade-off for Leslie's dream an equitable one?


It is fair to assume that when Leslie sold her property, she did so for a substantial profit. What conditions facilitated this profit? Might the restraining regulations have anything to do with it?

This is where the Mulholland Corridor paradigm comes into play. In that case, it is the preservation of beauty that added value, just as the balanced interplay between vineyards and forests in the Napa Valley does. In the same vein, a helipad at a neighbor's mansion would in the short-term add value to that property while diminishing that of its neighbors and ultimately the entire valley's, including that neighbor's, when dozens of private helicopters start crisscrossing our skies.

Bill Hocker watched his spring-fed pond dry out and his property value decrease. What would Leslie's property be worth if her well were to run dry?

Preserving tree canopy in the watershed helps replenish our water table. Admittedly, limiting the intrusion of agriculture into our forests is only one leg of the puzzle. Limiting the influx of tourists is another. At this critical time, they all point to a rethinking of our personal interests, including financial ones by realizing that our very investment in this valley, however small or large hinges on the preservation of its resources.

The Napa Valley has reached the tipping point where maximizing shortsighted self interest at the expense of the whole diminishes its return.

Christine Tittel