Monday, September 21, 2015

The Far Side of Eden 16: No prisoners

Note: This series of excerpts from my second Napa book begins with the June 2015 postings in the menu to the right.                                                                                                                
      The primary election was only a few months off, but first there were some people Chris Malan wanted to consult. One was Peter Mennen. He and Carlene had become a major force in Chris’s life; after years of struggling, penniless, for causes she believed in, against people whose motives she considered bad and whose financing was limitless, she had suddenly found money—money!—for monitoring, for scientific studies, for lawsuits, and maybe more. It was a wonderful, heady feeling, and she didn’t think it would end. With confidence she telephoned Peter and told him she wanted to run for Kathryn’s seat, adding, “If you have a problem with that, please let me know.”
      He said, “Let us know if we can help.”
      The other person Chris called was Parry Mead. The Mead ranch, just up Atlas Peak Road from the Malan property, provided an example of the alternative to full-scale development. It was there, around the forty-five-acre vineyard set in the middle of thirteen hundred acres of remote, rugged, often precipitous country, that Chris and Parry often walked and talked. They were close friends, two women in their forties, mothers active in caues that often took them far from home. As fellow members of the Watershed Task Force, they had resisted pressure to acquiesce in the demands for more latitude in developing vineyards, for “progress,” but their styles were very different.
      So were their pasts. Parry considered herself a moderate and thought her history as an activist showed this. She and her father, Giles, sat on the board of their own foundation, which was dedicated to environmental causes. But it did not operate in the manner of the Mennen Foundation, and its goals were different. Giles Mead lived in the original stone ranch house built at the turn of the century, Parry in a modern house nearby, next to one of the old barns. The vineyard provided income to run the ranch. The Meads had placed an easement on the property through the Land Trust of Napa County to prevent it from ever being developed, and they had donated a million dollars to the Land Trust to continue its work. The Mead Foundation funded a variety of projects around the country that either directly effected good land use or broadened knowledge of it. Although the Meads didn’t sue, they put their money where their mouths were, as Parry liked to say.
       For years, in the mornings, she and Chris had walked and hashed out what they saw as a likely future for the valley. They held differing views, however, and agreed never to let this or their divergent politics affect their friendship.
      The possibility of the Sierra Club lawsuit, long before it was filed, had been a topic of discussion. Pressure had to be exerted on the county to bring about change, they had agreed, but legal action should be held in abeyance until it was clear that the task force was unable to bring about change. But by the end of the first phase, Parry had realized more had to be done. She and Giles had met with the Mennens, their lawyer, and Chris at a restaurant in Calistoga, to discuss the pros and cons of going to court, and the Meads, father and daughter, decided not to take part in the suit.
      But Parry hoped to moderate reaction to it. As a member of the task force, she could point out that blame should not be assigned just to the wine industry but should be shared by the developers and by the cities—by everybody, in fact. What was happening to the hills and the river was a community responsibility. Parry wanted rules laid down for everybody to observe, but she also wanted a reconciliation among vineyardists, environmentalists, and conservationists.
      Chris’s actions sometimes got in the way of what she and Parry wanted to accomplish. The Mead Foundation paid to have a scientist come down from Oregon to study the river and its tributaries and report to the county and to the task force. His name was Charley Dewberry, and he had been well received. Then Chris had employed him to conduct a separate study for the Mennens, under the auspices of Friends of the Napa River. Predictably, Stu Smith and Dennis Groth claimed Dewberry was tainted and shouldn’t be heeded in his prescriptions for the river’s recovery. Parry had publicly defended the scientist, but the men on the task force drove the issue into the ground. After that meeting, Parry went to Chris and said, “This is awful, we lost credibility,” but Chris didn’t seem to care.
      “She was so passionate, Parry thought. And Chris’s focus was so tight. What resulted from such fervor was often tunnel vision.
                  (Next: The election that could have been)                                                         
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