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Updated: Ballot Proposal over Napa County Hillsides Looks Likely to Fail

Two weeks after the election, Measure C, which could sharply restrict wineries and hillside vineyard planting, is down by 600 votes
Napa voters were split over whether Measure C was good for the valley or bad.
Photo by: Napa Valley Register via ZUMA Wire
Napa voters were split over whether Measure C was good for the valley or bad.

Aaron Romano
Posted: June 13, 2018

Updated June 19.

Napa voters cast ballots June 5 on a measure that could dramatically shape the future of the local wine industry. Two weeks later, supporters of Measure C, a controversial initiative also known as the Napa County Watershed and Oak Woodland Protection Initiative of 2018, have conceded that it is unlikely they have the votes to win. But a final result will not be certified until June 25.

When the polls closed on election day, votes for Measure C exceeded votes against by just 42 ballots. But close to 20,000 mail-in ballots remained uncounted.

That lead narrowed and then evaporated as more ballots were tallied. John Tuteur, Napa County registrar of voters, released an updated count June 13, with “No” now ahead by 632 votes. Opponents outnumbered supporters 50.9 percent to 49.1 percent.

But with 1,736 ballots still to be counted, Napa County elections officials say the fight won't be over. “Once the ballots are counted, there are several steps to take before being able to certify the election results,” Tuteur said in a statement. Napa County is one of the early adopters of exclusive mail-in balloting and will continue to count additional ballots as long as they were postmarked by election day. The final certified results likely won’t be ready until June 25.

“We knew it would be a fight to the finish,” said Ryan Klobas, policy director for the Napa County Farm Bureau, which opposed the proposal. “I know there are a lot of people, like us, anxiously awaiting results.”

Measure C was created by local residents Mike Hackett and Jim Wilson, who say their goal is to enhance the protection of the county’s oak woodlands and watersheds. The measure would amend Napa County zoning rules to further regulate Napa's streams, watersheds, wetlands and oak forests, located predominantly in the hills above the valley. The measure would tighten restrictions on the removal of oak trees, and create new standards for buffers near streams and wetlands.

“We remain very happy with how our side has performed given the fact that we were outspent 3-to-1 and our opposition sent out a misleading mailer at the last minute designed to play on the fears of voters,” said Hackett.

”Yes” and “No” signs could be seen equally throughout the valley, showing just how divided the region is on this topic. Feuds were sparked by town-hall meetings and campaign ads. The opposing sides even took each other to court over language in campaign statements.

“We still believe strongly that Measure C would provide essential protections for Napa County’s watershed lands, and we remain hopeful that the final vote will break in our favor,” said Hackett.

Some prominent Napa vintners supported the measure, including Andy Beckstoffer, Randy Dunn and Warren Winiarski. Proponents argue that big corporations and developers have too much influence in Napa, and that there aren’t enough regulations. They believe the rate of development in the watersheds is moving too fast.

All the major wine-trade groups in Napa County opposed the measure. Opponents felt like the initiative was written without public input, and needlessly increases regulations in areas that are already tightly restricted for land use, particularly for agriculture.

“If voted down, we are willing to sit down and discuss the issues that were raised,” said Klobas. He expressed that he was still optimistic and confident about the pending results.

“Regardless of the outcome, this issue will not die,” said Hackett. “There's been a dramatic increase in awareness on both sides.”

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