Rights require responsibility – Yes on C.




Letter to the Editor - Napa Valley Register by Andy Beckstoffer



The anti-conservation forces are declaring that the Measure C protection of watersheds is an assault to their property rights. It is not; it is a normal and expected outcome of increasing density of development.

In the early days of populating an area, the impact of one person is typically negligible, and so there are few formal restrictions. As an area becomes more populated, two things happen.

First, there are irresponsible people who do things on their land that have negative impacts on neighbors and downstream. Whether carving up a mountain such that it washes into the river, polluting, or creating problems with neighbors, rules are created to make it clear that irresponsible behavior is not allowed.

Of greater significance is the aggregate impact of development when an area attracts many landowners to deforest, build facilities, and scrape the land of natural vegetation. The aggregate and cumulative impact of development has harmful effects for neighbors and downstream communities, even if each individual adheres to a "best practice" approach.

That was resoundingly demonstrated in the Dunne report of 2001. As density increases, the cumulative impact becomes significant, and each landowner has to adhere to increasingly stringent rules to prevent permanent harm to the environment and its citizens. Even the first guy, who operated under no rules and was responsible, has to adhere to the rules that protect everybody. The same rules for everybody.

Is this stealing property rights? No. Nobody has unlimited sovereign rights. In general, you can do with your property as you please, unless it negatively impacts others. You can’t build a rock concert venue down a two-lane road deep in a canyon and you can’t operate a mercury mine (any more).

You can’t light a bonfire in windy dry weather. In Los Angeles in the 1950s, dry trash was burned in incinerators in back yards. The cumulative impact was horrid smog, so it was made illegal to possess an incinerator.

Was this an infringement on property rights? Not at all. It was acknowledgment that with increasing population density, this was a pretty stupid thing to do.

The flip side of the “rights” argument is “responsibility.” Acknowledge that Napa today is not the Napa of 1970. The volume and density of development – agriculture and "hospitality" - is having cumulative impact on the county, and we will have to create rules that protect the environment and communities from the cumulative impact of individually responsible operations.

Property rights are not absolute or infinite. What you can do with your property has always been with consideration to the impact on others. You are part of a community.

Which brings us back to Measure C. It is up to the citizens of our community to pass the initiative that will assure a healthy environment for all of Napa County’s current and future generations. Please join me in voting 'yes' on Measure C.

Andy Beckstoffer

St. Helena