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NR 2005-24
October 18, 2005

Contact: Ed Wilson
Mark Oldfield
Don Drysdale
(916) 323-1886

CALIFORNIA DEPARTMENT OF CONSERVATION
RECOGNIZES NAPA COUNTY FOR SUPPORT OF WILLIAMSON ACT

NAPA -- The State of California will recognize Napa County’s work to preserve agricultural land with the Williamson Act Stewardship Award and other commendations.

“We applaud Napa County’s commitment to creating an environment in which agriculture and viniculture can thrive,” said Bridgett Luther Thompson, Director of the California Department of Conservation.

DOC will present a resolution from Governor Schwarzenegger commending the county’s stewardship of the Act at the October 18 Board of Supervisors meeting. The county will also receive a joint proclamation from Senator Wesley Chesbro and Assemblymember Noreen Evans.

“Napa County appreciates this recognition from the Department of Conservation,” Board of Supervisors Chairperson Diane Dillon said. “The residents of Napa County, as well as the many visitors we get from around the world, value not only our wines, but also our open space and our rural ambience. The Williamson Act is an important part of maintaining our unique setting and environment.”

Through its Division of Land Resource Protection, DOC administers or supports a number of programs designed to promote orderly growth in coordination with agricultural endeavors. That is a critical job, since the population of California is expected to grow from its current 38 million to 55 million by 2025, and the need for new homes will put strain on the nation's leading agricultural economy, valued at $33 billion last year.

One of the key tools available for land conservation planning is the Williamson Act, which provides tax incentives for landowners that keep large tracts of land in agricultural or open-space use. The law has been widely credited with discouraging ``leapfrog'' development, and more than 16 million acres -- half of the state's agricultural landscape -- are currently enrolled in Williamson Act contracts.

As of the 2004-05 fiscal year, Napa County had 69,430 acres of land enrolled in the Williamson Act, including more than 18,000 acres of prime farmland. Napa County produced more than $393 million worth of agricultural products in 2002-03.

“Napa County embodies what the Williamson Act envisions,” said Dennis O’Bryant, head of the Division of Land Resource Protection. “We have never had any problems with the county’s enforcement of the Act – no incompatible uses on contracted land, no illegal subdivisions. That history reflects the value the county puts on agricultural land. Napa County is renowned for its world-class wines, but we in the Department of Conservation appreciate it just as much for its world-class attention to protecting agricultural land.”

Linda Reiff, Executive Director of the Napa Valley Vintners (NVV) said: “"Promoting and protecting the Napa Valley as one of the finest winegrowing regions in the world is a critical part of our vision. The Williamson Act and other local agricultural land preservation efforts have allowed our region to continue to flourish."

The NVV, representing more than 270 winery members, recently commissioned a study that shows that the Napa Valley wine industry has a $9.5 billion local economic impact.

"Protecting our natural and agricultural resources also helps to protect our economy and our community,” Reiff added.

Al Wagner, Napa County Farm Bureau President, wholeheartedly supports the Williamson Act as the state's most important land conservation program.

"I congratulate and thank Napa County government for leading the nation in agricultural preservation policies,” Wagner said. “The Williamson Act and our agricultural preserve policies are essential elements in protecting our agricultural heritage and world-renowned winegrape region."

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