NEWS- Ballot Proposal over Napa County Hillsides Remains Undecided (Wine Spectator)

“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” – Mike Hackett

Written by Aaron Romano; Original article available here:

Napa voters cast ballots June 5 on a measure that could dramatically shape the future of the local wine industry. A week later, the future remains unclear.

Votes are still being tallied on Measure C, the controversial initiative also known as the Napa County Watershed and Oak Woodland Protection Initiative of 2018. 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.

John Tuteur, Napa County registrar of voters, released an updated count June 12, with “No” now ahead by 313 votes. The approximately 27,000 ballots counted so far represent 80 percent of the total cast, and Tuteur’s office reports that 7,000 remain to be counted. He hopes to finish that this week, but if the count remains close, 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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