A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum

The purpose of the Napa Water Forum 2023 – the Refugia Project is to share with the public events relating to two topics: Napa stream remediation and monitoring. Panelists will speak to what their entity has done, is doing and plans to do in the near future.

Because millions of Napa County taxpayer dollars and many years have been spent (and are being) spent on these issues, we asked for Flood Control, the Groundwater Sustainability Agency (GSA), its Technical Advisory Committee, and their consultants, LSCE and Stillwater, to come and tell the public about their efforts. Staff agreed to participate, probably because they are rightly proud of what they are hoping to do in the near future, and possibly because they wanted the rare opportunity to meet with colleagues. It was going to be a cooperative exercise in public communication.

We issued our public announcement to the Forum. All normal so far.

This is when it gets weird. After our public announcement, acting Napa County CEO David Morrison instructed all Napa County employees not to participate. They understood this as an edict that could cost them their jobs.

This is puzzling for two reasons. First, why should the County not participate in a public gathering? Is not communication of their actions part of their duties? But it is the second factor which is truly repugnant: Last week the LSCE, the GSA consultants, County planning staff presented a private water briefing to the Farm Bureau. Two supervisors attended. That meeting was closed to the public and there is no public record. The public paid for every single person that provided that briefing, and for the two supervisors to attend, but the County and the Farm Bureau will not share what was said.

At first, shocked and intimidated by the arrogance of this conduct, the sponsors of the Forum considered Morrison’s decision to have fatally wounded the event, but on reflection they realized that this was just the same old thing, different day. Mr. Morrison apparently believes (perhaps with good cause) that he, the County staff, and the Supervisors, all answer to the Farm Bureau and not to the public. The available evidence suggests that Morrison holds old fashioned values of taxation without representation: while County voters may pay salaries and consulting fees, they should have no expectation of public consultation. Representation is reserved for more important constituencies.

We reject that proposition. The Forum will go forward.

If County officers are prohibited from presenting their own work to the public, volunteers from the public will do the job for them. Someone will read the County’s words — and the words of the State — and will report to the public what has happened, is happening, and what is planned to happen in Napa in the future. As one of Water Audit California’s directors quipped: sunshine will come, whether or not you cooperate.

We will still introduce plans that may solve the County’s water issues, and showcase admirable already work being done by others. The County has had little to do with those ideas or actions so far, so their presence will not be missed.

See you at the Forum.