Opponents of the Napa Valley Unified School District board on Wednesday announced the failure of their drive to put a possible recall of all seven trustees before voters.
The Committee to Recall the Board of Trustees of the Napa Valley Unified School District failed to gather the required 10,000 signatures on its petition, chairwoman Connie Brennan said in a news release on Wednesday.
Wednesday was the end of the 160-day period petitioners had to gain signatures for the recall measure, which Napa County’s Registrar of Voters John Tuteur said would have appeared on the November 2018 ballot.
“Although the committee and volunteers worked tirelessly until late in the day on Tuesday, we just didn’t make our number,” Brennan wrote in her statement, without saying how many people signed on to the recall drive.
The recall committee will shred and destroy all signatures to protect the privacy of those opposing the school board, she added.
Board president Jose Hurtado, one of the seven targeted by the recall, called Wednesday’s announcement “good news. I’m glad it failed to get enough signatures and we can move on.”
“I lost a few nights of sleep, but really, if you’re in an elected position, it’s part of the job,” Hurtado said of his initial reaction to recall effort.
“In a rather perverse way, it generated more interest in the board and the school district,” Hurtado said. “We’ve had more people attending meetings and showing interest in the governance of the school district than ever before.”
Robb Felder, the school board trustee, issued a statement, saying he had “remained confident that our community values the work the School Board does and would see through the recall committee’s efforts to divide the community.
“With this distraction behind us, we will continue the good work that we do for all of the kids throughout our community. It is unfortunate so much time was spent trying to collect signatures to recall elected officials when that time could have been spent volunteering in a child’s classroom.”
With the defeat of the attempt to replace the school board wholesale, three of the trustees will be up for re-election next fall: Stacy Bratlien, Thomas Kensok and Felder.
The petition drive targeted school board members whose critics accused them of botching the district’s response to alleged hazing by Napa High School football players, mismanaging the district’s budget and seeking to retire Napa High’s Indians mascot.
Foes of the current Napa Valley Unified board contended the district rushed to judgment when it expelled student-athletes after allegations of hazing football teammates in the 2015 and 2016 seasons. Three of the players, including junior varsity quarterback Johnny Torres, later had their dismissals overturned by the Napa County Board of Education – the first such reversals in several years.
(The Napa County District Attorney’s Office announced in May criminal charges against six teenagers in connection with those incidents, and added 11 other teens were under investigation.)
Petitioners against the school board also pointed to Napa Valley Unified’s fiscal troubles, with its budget facing a deficit of more than $12 million this school year before the approval of spending costs. District leaders have said the shortfall stems from falling enrollment and swelling pension expenses, as well as state funding decisions made in Sacramento.
In addition, recall supporters took up the cause of Napans fighting the replacement of Napa High’s Indians sporting nickname, which others have attacked as disparaging to those of Native American descent. After a school district committee voted in February to recommend dropping the Indian mascot, two community meetings on the topic were marked by audience strife, including a near-confrontation in April between Native American activists and a man holding a “Napa Indians Forever” sign.
The mascot issue remains tabled, with no timetable for trustees to discuss it again, according to district spokeswoman Elizabeth Emmett.
After the county approved the petition drive in June, recall supporters spent the following months calling on voters to sign on, setting up booths at local supermarkets and the Napa Town & Country Fair to promote their effort.
City Editor Kevin Courtney contributed to this story.
A somber crowd, many of them in blue “Silva Plumbing” Little League sweatshirts, gathered at Vine Hill Park in Napa Tuesday night to honor the Horn family, which lost four members in a hit-and-run crash in San Pablo last Saturday.
Killed in the crash were Daryl Horn, 50, his son Joe Horn, 14, from Napa, and Troy Biddle, 52, and his son Baden Biddle, 12, from Washington state.
Daryl Horn was well known in local youth baseball circles from his time as a coach with the Napa Valley Baseball Club. Joseph Horn was a student at Redwood Middle School. The Biddles, who are related to the Horns, are from Bainbridge Island, Washington.
The sole survivor of the wreck was Daryl Horn’s son, Jared, a former baseball star at Vintage High School and a current sophomore at UC Berkeley. He pitches for the Golden Bears.
Law Enforcement Chaplain Lee Shaw tried to console the crowd and invited mourners to offer tributes.
“He made everyone happy – he was never negative about anything,” said one of Joe’s Redwood classmate. She and another girl shared stories about Joe dressing up in wacky costumes, rapping to a Beastie Boys song and always making people laugh.
“He was the funniest,” said a friend who has known him since the first grade.
“He was a true leader,” said Maryanne Christoffersen, principal of Redwood Middle School. He had a “beautiful light” inside him and was always very caring toward others, she said. “We’re gonna really, really miss him,” she said, eliciting tears from the crowd as she tried to hold her own back.
“He wasn’t afraid to be who he wanted to be … (to) express himself,” shared another student.
With candles in hand, the gathering of more than 100 people marched past houses decorated for Christmas to the Horn’s family home. The crowd spilled into the road, the light from the candles illuminating the family’s front yard.
A choir lined up around the Horn’s porch to sing “The Very Best Time of the Year,” a Christmas song about enjoying time with family and friends.
The sound of sniffling could be heard underneath the music as the group outside the home cried together, many of them embracing one another.
Before those participating in the makeshift memorial scattered, Denise Horn, Daryl’s widow and Joe’s mother, decided to address the crowd, thanking them for their comfort and support.
“I just feel so blessed,” she said. “I know how much you loved (the family) … please know that it’s reciprocated back.”
“Take care of each other,” she said.
After a shout of “We love you, Denise,” the “mighty plumbers” approached the porch, armed with plungers and hugs.
For years, Daryl Horn had encouraged the Napa Little League team, Silva Plumbing, to embrace the plumber and even handed out plungers decorated in the team’s colors.
The group stood by Jared, held up their plungers and chanted, “Wick, wack, plumber’s crack.”
As Napa city officials near a possible decision in the two-decade tug of war over 51 homes planned near Old Sonoma Road and Casswall Street, a developer on Tuesday again tried to make the case for the project to dozens of skeptical neighbors worried about future traffic, storm drainage and quality of life.
The latest pitch by Davidon Homes drew more than 70 Napans to a forum at nearby Harvest Middle School, where Steve Abbs, the firm’s vice president for land acquisition and development, urged residents to welcome design and layout changes he said would make the hillside housing complex more discreet, and less burdensome, to those living and driving nearby.
Tweaks to the project known as Napa Oaks II include the replacement of two homes by a trailhead and small park, as well as two miles of trails, forest protection easements, and even a traffic roundabout at the development’s main entrance to slow dangerously fast vehicles coming downhill on Old Sonoma Road from Congress Valley in the unincorporated county just west.
“We want to give this property to the city,” Abbs said of the planned improvements. “We want to open it up to the community so you can enjoy the land and its amenities.”
Abbs further promised that Davidon will give $1.2 million to the Gasser Foundation to add affordable housing elsewhere in Napa, as well as pay for a 2/3-mile water main extension from Browns Valley to improve fire protection and water pressure.
Changes of heart among audience members, however, appeared scarce, with various neighbors pointedly dismissing the wisdom of adding houses and streets – however carefully arranged – to the hill rising south of Old Sonoma Road near Napa’s western border. Placed beside a few spectators in the school meeting hall were red-letter placards reading: “Stop Napa Oaks hillside subdivision … again!”
The promises by Davidon to preserve woodlands, add open space and protect hillsides failed to impress opponents such as Eve Ryser. “It’s disingenuous to say that in order to conserve, you have to develop,” Ryser, a Foster Road resident, told Abbs. “Those things don’t add up.”
The forum took place ahead of a Dec. 7 meeting at which the city’s Planning Commission is expected to review Napa Oaks II, which has been downsized and reconfigured since a City Council veto 15 years ago and an unsuccessful lawsuit by Davidon to force zoning changes clearing a path for the homes. If planners endorse the development, the current council would have the final say on its approval.
Once planned to hold 83 houses on cattle pastures overlooking the city and nearby vineyards, the Napa Oaks plan has been gradually pared down by its backers through years of applications, city reviews, and neighbor petitions seeking to block it.
After a new city general plan in 1998 rezoned the hill as a “resource area” banning home lots smaller than 20 acres, Davidon reduced the number of homes to 63, added more open space and promised to remove fewer trees. But Napa stood firm against allowing denser construction, and the City Council rejected the plan in 2002. A 2005 suit by Davidon in Napa County Superior Court failed to overturn the refusal.
The developer filed plans in 2015 for a downsized renamed Napa Oaks II, which city staff reviewed and presented for public comment the following year. Houses in the revised 53-home layout were concentrated on areas graded level or flattened for roads by previous owners in the 1960s, a step Davidon leaders said will lessen the loss of woodlands and screen more homes away from surrounding neighborhoods.
On Tuesday, much of Davidon’s case for Napa Oaks II focused on nature preservation and traffic safety.
New to the plan is a roundabout to replace the intersection of Old Sonoma Road and Lilienthal Avenue, where the main entrance is to be built. The roundabout would slow vehicles to about 15 mph, with flashing beacons alerting motorists in both directions on Old Sonoma.
On the Napa Oaks grounds – currently a rough-hewn mix of cattle pastures, groves and rutted grassy paths with orange cones marking future cul-de-sacs – more than 47 acres are to remain oak-covered to protect view corridors, and Davidon would work with the Napa County Resource Conservation District to bring its Acorn to Oaks education program onto the complex to encourage more tree plantings. The project’s trails, park and open spaces will be open to the public, according to Abbs.
Still, many audience members remained less than mollified.
One of the neighborhood’s newest residents compared its traffic flow – even without Napa Oaks II and its possible rotary gateway – unfavorably to the metropolis she had left behind only three weeks earlier.
“I lived in Portland, Oregon, in the heart of the city, and I can’t believe the traffic on that street,” said Sally Sparling. “It’s already like sleeping by the freeway now, and I can’t imagine what it’ll be life when you have more homes – and you know every home will have three cars.”
Homeowners on Casswall, Idaho Street and nearby routes revived concerns about an increase in runoff and flooding risks with the arrival of hillside homes, although Abbs replied state law will require Napa Oaks II’s stormwater drainage basin and pipes to leave runoff on the property no greater than in its natural state.
Others predicted that Davidon’s various aspirations for the project – smoother transportation, public access to open space, and peace and quiet for future residents – would prove contradictory in the end.
“I don’t understand the logic here: new pathways so that people who don’t even live there can go through there,” said Frank Varni of Old Sonoma Road. “The one lesson my father taught me was not to buy a house next to a park. Thank you for making that come true.”
Abbs estimated that home prices will range from about $1.2 million to $2 million, with construction lasting up to 3 ½ years after city approval.
AMERICAN CANYON — The American Canyon City Council greeted to its new police chief and bade farewell to its former one Tuesday night in separate ceremonies before a packed room at City Hall.
Outgoing Police Chief Tracey Stuart was honored with a proclamation for her four years of running the American Canyon Police Department, while Lt. Oscar Ortiz was officially welcomed as the city’s new police chief.
“You’re in outstanding hands with Chief Ortiz,” Stuart told the council.
In an interview outside the council chambers, Stuart said Ortiz was “the perfect selection” to replace her.
“He’s one of the smartest people,” Stuart said. “He’s got a great personality for dealing with both the community and the officers.”
“He’ll bring new ideas and new blood. Change is sometimes good, and I think Oscar’s going to bring great change.”
Stuart was the first woman to lead the American Canyon Police Department, serving as chief since 2013. She is retiring after 22 years with the Napa County Sheriff’s Office, which provides officers and commanders to American Canyon through a contract with the city.
Ortiz has been with the Sheriff’s Office since 1996, and was most recently head of the Investigation’s Unit. He will be promoted to captain at the end of the year.
“I was definitely excited and humbled” when I found out I would be the next police chief, said Ortiz. “I’ve been telling people I have a healthy level of nervousness.”
As chief, he will oversee a department of 24 officers, plus three other personnel.
Ortiz began his law enforcement career in 1991 at age 20 working at the Napa County jail. Born in Los Angeles County, he moved to Napa when he was 4 years old.
He is a graduate of Vintage High School, and is married with three children – his oldest son is a Navy corpsman currently serving in Iraq with the Marine Corps.
In his off hours, Ortiz coaches boxing through the Sheriff’s Activity League. “It’s my hobby and what I like to do in my spare time,” he said.
Ortiz competed as a boxer in police Olympics when he was younger, and has been coaching boxers for 17 years.
After Stuart decided to retire, Napa County Sheriff John Robertson recommended two police chief candidates to the City Council for consideration.
On Nov. 13, a three-member special council subcommittee consisting of Mayor Leon Garcia and Councilmembers Kenneth Leary and David Oro interviewed the candidates. The subcommittee unanimously recommended Ortiz as the next chief.
Stuart succeeded Jean Donaldson, who was promoted to undersheriff. Other prior police chiefs were Brian Banducci, who returned to the Sheriff’s Office and became undersheriff, and Doug Koford, who left to become sheriff of Napa County.
A 1985 Napa High School graduate, Stuart started her career as a reserve peace officer with the Calistoga Police Department. In 1989, she became a full-time officer in Calistoga and worked there for six more years.
She began working for the Sheriff’s Office in 1995. She was promoted to sergeant in 1998 and to lieutenant in 2007.
Stuart plans to move to Oregon after her retirement, which becomes official on Dec. 30.