My First Editorial: General Plans, People, and Earth Day (April 18, 2005)

by Peter Kilkus


April 22 is Earth Day, in case you forgot. The first Earth Day was on April 22, 1970 and weÕve learned a lot since then.  But the County General Plan meeting at the Berryessa Senior Center on April 6 was much more than it seemed on the surface and made me wonder how much some people actually have learned. There were clear distinctions between what those who live here want and what those who donÕt live here think we should want.


Consider County attitude – it seems to be paternalistic and negative towards our community. County officials have publicly stated that Lake Berryessa is a Òblack holeÓ expense and that Napa County citizens donÕt use the lake. An unnamed Planning Dept. person worried that the meeting would be full of people from the Òsix packs and gun racksÓ crowd. Those of us who were there know this wasnÕt the case.


But IÕve sometimes made a point about how much something costs by translating the dollar figure into the number of six-packs you could buy with the money. That pile of six-packs is quite an exciting visual when you think about a multi-million dollar government waste of money like the plan the Bureau of Reclamation is proposing for Lake Berryessa.


But the six-pack comment also indicates a fundamental lack of understanding of what it is like to be part of a concerned and educated rural America in the 21st century.  There are too many people who have not gotten beyond their 1970Õs Easy Rider stereotypes. Some, like the local Sierra Club, are so far behind the times they must be able to see wagon trains catching up to them in their rearview mirrors!


Many of us at Lake Berryessa now were part of the efforts that resulted in unprecedented environmental and social progress during the last 35 years since the first Earth Day. But some donÕt want to let go of the thrill of the battles, with the rush that comes from knowing you (the good guys) are right and they (the bad guys) are wrong. You can see it now in some of the rhetoric from local exclusionist groups who seem to want to fight bigger and bigger battles over smaller and smaller things.


Consider the local folksÕ attitude – most seem to want to combine the positive values of the Lake Berryessa community with a desire for a modest increase in the number of homes and businesses – more lodging outside the resorts for visitors, for example. Sure would be nice to be able to have a self-supporting gas station out here! Maybe even a change to the highly-restrictive 160 acre agricultural zoning.


Even Marin County - no slouch when it comes to protection - has only 60 acre ag zoning. Local people, especially those who have lived out here their whole lives, know the value of what theyÕve got, but they also want to share it, expand it, benefit reasonably from it.


So how about some philosophy in the mix. General planning principles point out that to have a sustainable community you need at least 1,000 homes - to support a school, local businesses, local services.  In other words, you have to have a critical mass of social and economic activity to create a sustainable community. Lake Berryessa has not gotten there yet and based on how itÕs being treated by the County it may never be allowed to. When people who control your destiny (the rest of Napa County) donÕt even know much about you (remember the County says Napa County residents, i.e., voters, donÕt even use the lake) you are at a disadvantage.


Philosophically, weÕve learned a lot in the 35 years since that first Earth Day. WeÕve learned that most of us Americans consider ourselves environmentalists. WeÕve learned how to turn the tide on environmental destruction and have done so in remarkable ways. WeÕve learned that using sustainability as a guiding principle gives the best result for the environment, the economy, and social equity. And I know weÕve learned how to make Lake Berryessa a vibrant community while preserving the values that make this community unique.