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Grape growers mount p.r. campaign

By Greg Cahill

CAN'T WE ALL just get along? In an effort to improve feelings between Sonoma County grape growers and the burgeoning cadre of environmental activists now holding civil disobedience training sessions in preparation for a standoff over proposed forced spraying of pesticides to combat a potentially damaging vineyard bug, the Sonoma County Grape Growers Association has published a brochure designed to improve community relations.

According to a Jan. 10 press release, the Common Courtesy, Common Sense guide "signals the intentions of growers to farm responsibly by respecting neighbors, workers, the environment, and our water supply." It also notes that growers "can no longer assume our rural neighbors [i.e., new suburbanites] have an ag heritage or understanding. Many will have very different expectations."

Like not being subjected to unhealthy pesticide drift?

Indeed, SCGGA doesn't mention the steadily rising use of pesticides in Sonoma County, which always ranks high in state pesticide-use figures. But the SCGGA press release does acknowledge that the county is moving ever closer to a monoculture dominated by the almighty grape, which feeds a sea of political campaign contributions. "Grape revenues will likely account for over 60 percent of the county's farm gates revenues in 2000, up from 54 percent in 1999," SCGGA president John Clendenen noted. "Strong prices, plus increased yield levels over 1998 and 1999 and expanded acreage, have increased grape revenues. Other major county agricultural products likely decreased in value in 2000 due to lower prices and shrinking production . . . These trends reinforce the importance of grape production, if Sonoma County is to retain its agricultural heritage in the 21st century."

The Town Hall Coalition, Occidental Arts and Ecology Center, and other organizations are mounting an orchestrated campaign to reverse that trend. But increased reliance on grape production makes forced spraying almost a certainty, since the growers argue that the crop is vital to the county's economic growth.

Meanwhile, state Assembly-woman Pat Wiggins, D-Santa Rosa, announced last week that she is "encouraged" by Gov. Gray Davis' willingness to spend $19.6 million this year to fight the glassy winged sharpshooter and the bacterial Pierce's disease that it spreads to grape vines.

Money talks.

Desolation Row

PROGRESSIVE point man Jim Hightower and an army of Naderistas couldn't wait for George Dubya to seize the reins of power so the conservative administration would rile up liberals and set the stage for battles over abortion, civil rights, the environment, and other hot-button issues. They didn't even have to wait for the big guy to put his cowboy boots up on the Oval Office desk--when it comes to the great outdoors, at least. Bush's nominee for Secretary of the Interior, Colorado Attorney General Gale Norton, and an Interior Department transition team that reads like a Who's Who of Timber, Mining, and Big Oil Interests has sent shivers down the spines of staffers at the Point Reyes National Seashore and beyond.

And for good reason.

Norton, who was vilified last week by critics for her apparent sympathetic statements about the Confederacy, once opposed the construction of a handicap-access ramp on the Colorado state house because the ramp would diminish the historic architecture. Imagine how she'll feel about bringing national landmarks and parklands up to code?

Of course, George Dubya isn't exactly known for cozying up to parklands. During his tenure as governor, Texas ranked 49th among states in the amount of money it devoted to parks. In addition, Bush supported a 1995 law permitting landowners to sue the government for the cost of obeying environmental regulations. And Bush already has made it clear he'll exploit the sensitive Arctic Wildlife Refuge for its vast oil reserves. But first, Dubya has a bevy of transition-team attorneys looking for ways to overturn President Clinton's last-minute executive order closing thousands of miles of roads in national parklands to loggers. Bush promised this week to bring "a Western perspective" to parkland management.

Thanks, Ralph.


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From the January 18-24, 2001 issue of the Northern California Bohemian.

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