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J.L. Sousa, Register 

Cinder Ernst is a life and fitness coach helping plus size women become more active with less pain so they can have more fun. She is pictured with her two dogs, Camelot and Scout, who accompany her and her clients on walks.

Napa County supervisors place oak woodland initiative on June ballot

It’s official—the watershed and oak woodland protection initiative will be on the June 5 ballot.

The Napa County Board of Supervisors approved the move on Tuesday afternoon, naming the initiative Measure C. The Board was scheduled later in the afternoon to take action on a Blakeley Construction initiative and an initiative to ban new personal use heliports.

Proponents gathered enough signatures from registered, local voters to qualify Measure C for an election. That gave supervisors the choice of adopting it as written or placing it on the ballot.

“I fully support, as I did with every other citizen-driven initiative, putting it on the ballot,” Supervisor Diane Dillon said.

Supervisors heard from 29 speakers over two hours, almost evenly split among Measure C proponents and opponents.

“I think both sides outlined where they are with this initiative and where the battle lines are on it,” Board Chairman Brad Wagenknecht said when the testimony ended.

One point of controversy was a Measure C informational report that the Board of Supervisors on Jan. 30 ordered staff to prepare. The law firm Miller Starr Regalia found possible legal flaws that it said might in varying degrees make the county vulnerable to lawsuits if the initiative passes.

Attorney Robert Perlmutter on behalf of Measure C backers found flaws with the Miller Starr Regalia report. These type of informational reports authorized by state law are supposed to be fair, accurate and impartial, he said.

“It reads as if it was prepared by the opponents of the measure,” Perlmutter said.

He talked about the science behind the proposed stream setbacks and other features of the initiative. He read a press release from Napa Valley Vintners praising the measure, before the wine industry group later reversed itself and opposed it.

Rex Stults of Napa Valley Vintners gave the group’s reasons for the reversal. Napa Valley Vintners held a forum with attorneys arguing both for and against Measure C and decided some points are vague, he said.

Also, Stults said, the October wildfires made a difference. The fires destroyed oaks, making it unclear to the group at what point Measure C’s oak removal limit for new vineyards in the agricultural watershed zoning district might take effect.

Former Supervisor Ginny Simms said the Miller Starr Regalia report listed all the possible negative effects of Measure C and none of the possible positive effects. Simms said protecting watersheds so people have water to drink is a positive.

Dario Sattui said Napa County already has some of the most restrictive rules in the world for planting vineyards.

“If this initiative passes, I think it’s the beginning of the demise of the wine industry in Napa County,” he said.

Grapegrower Yeoryios Apallas spoke in favor of the initiative. He said two supervisors are against it and three haven’t stated their positions.

“Don’t shirk your responsibility because you have a fealty to the wine industry,” Apallas told supervisors. “You have a fealty to the citizens.”

Vintner Stuart Smith said 100 years of accepted fire suppression theory has resulted in overgrown forests with greater fuel loads that burn hotter. Because of housing, fire management can no longer burn forests to keep them open and healthy and logging is unprofitable.

Only vineyards checker-boarding hillsides can dampen wildfire intensity and environmental destruction, as demonstrated in the October wildfires, Smith said. The oak woodland initiative would perpetuate 100 years of misguided policies and result in the opposite of what it intends, he added.

Angwin resident Kellie Anderson responded that a highway doesn’t burn in a fire, but that doesn’t mean hillsides should be checkered with highways.

Also on Tuesday, the Board of Supervisors placed Regional Measure 3 on the ballot. This is a Bay Area-wide initiative that would raise bridge tolls on the region’s state-owned bridges by $1 in 2019, $1 in 2022 and $1 in 2025.

Money raised is to pay for various traffic-relieving projects in the Bay Area, with $20 million to be allocated to Highway 29 in south Napa County.

Jack Gray of the Napa County Taxpayers Association criticized the proposed increase. He said it could hurt people who have lower-paying jobs in San Francisco and must commute there, sometimes crossing two bridges.

“I think Regional Measure 3 with the $3 increase will really cause a lot of people a lot of problems,” Gray said.

Voters will decide. County Registrar of Voters John Tuteur said the state legislation authorizing the toll increase ballot measure says the nine Bay Area counties “shall” place it on the ballot.

“I don’t think you have an option,” he told supervisors. “If you don’t do it, it would probably be put on by a judge and cost more money.”

Editor's note: The quotes from vintner Stuart Smith have been clarified from the original version.

New fishing platform on Napa River

Anglers who fish from wheelchairs and motorized carts now have a safer place from which to cast their lines. The city of Napa recently built a concrete platform with a safety curb at the end of River Park Boulevard.

The platform, which cost the city $3,000, addresses the scarcity of fishing spots for people with disabilities.

On the day this photo was taken, a half-dozen fully ambulatory men were fishing from the improved river bank. The downtown boat dock in front of the Riverfront complex is also wheelchair accessible.

‘Honey, I shrunk the Napa Valley Wine Train’

What’s the next best thing to riding the Wine Train? For some customers, it’s buying their own, albeit, miniature version of the Napa Valley railroad cars.

Starting later this year, a German-based manufacturer hopes to produce a new large-scale model of the Napa Valley Wine Train — one that can be run on a model train display or simply admired on a mantel or bookshelf.

After being approached by model railroad company Märklin, the Wine Train began discussing plans to reproduce the trains.

“There’s a lot of folks out there that are train aficionados,” said Gregory Brun, Wine Train partner.

“We thought it would be something interesting to have available to either collectors or hobbyists” to take home for their own train collection or even as a souvenir or keepsake, he said.

The trains will be sold by hobby shops, such as the Loose Caboose in Napa, and if all goes as planned, likely at the Wine Train station itself.

At about 8 inches tall and about 26 inches long, the “G” scale locomotive model of the train is meant as a keepsake for model train enthusiasts or those who want a high-quality collectible to display at home or an office.

With the size and quality comes a matching price.

At Napa’s Loose Caboose, the locomotive will cost about $850, said store manager Roy Ballard. Two other cars will be manufactured. A passenger car will sell for approximately $400 and the box car for $180.

Only about 300 of each car will be made, said Gale Cousins, North America general manager for Märklin. So far, he said he has preorders for at least 100 locomotives.

Napa Valley visitors, typically more affluent and with more discretionary income, will have “no problem spending money on a train like this,” said Cousins.

“We have a lot of people like that buy our products just for display.”

Riding the train itself creates memories, “and now people can buy this memory and take it home with them and remember the experience they had on the train,” said Cousins.

Cousins said that a Märklin entity called LGB will manufacture the train in Hungary.

“There are LGB enthusiasts all over the world,” said Cousins. “This is their life, their hobby; this is what they do.”

Yes, the trains are expensive, he acknowledged.

“People are going to see the price tag and wonder what they are getting but (with) LGB, they are getting one of the best-quality model trains in this scale you can get,” said Cousins. “It’s going to last for generations.”

Paying $850 for an LGB train is really not that high, he said. Some model train locomotives sell for as high as $4,000, he said.

With that price tag, these trains aren’t play things. “We don’t like to use the word ‘toy’ train,” said Cousins.

Roy Ballard of Loose Caboose hobby shop said he’s been working as an intermediary to help the Wine Train ownership and Märklin come to an agreement.

The Loose Caboose has sold various versions of Wine Train cars over the years.

“We have locals and tourists asking for a model of the Wine Train all the time,” said Ballard. Napa residents don’t always realize it, but the Wine Train, is world famous, he noted.

People still inquire about the previous G scale Wine Train model, made years ago by another company, and no longer manufactured. In G scale, a quarter inch equals a foot.

The Wine Train gift shop currently sells one smaller scale version of the train made by a company called Athearn. The locomotive costs $159.99 and a caboose is $37.99.

Getting this new version of a model train manufactured is a “win-win,” said Ballard. “The Wine Train gets its product promoted, free advertising and goodwill.” Stores get to sell the trains and hobbyists get to buy them.

While the deal to produce the trains has yet to be finalized, both Cousins and Brun said they are optimistic an arrangement can be worked out.

Man sues Napa Valley food processor after allegedly breaking his tooth on an olive pit

A self-proclaimed longtime consumer of Mezzetta’s Pitted Greek Kalamata Olives is suing the company after allegedly breaking his tooth on an olive pit last summer.

Mark Halper filed the suit himself in Napa County Superior Court in December, listing a P.O. Box in Telluride, Colorado as his address. G. L. Mezzetta, Inc., a food processing company in American Canyon, responded to the claim earlier this month through their attorney Tina W. Lu of the Law Offices of John A. Biard in Walnut Creek.

According to their response filed in court, the company denies Halper’s allegations and denies that Halper was damaged at all.

Lu told the Register that she did not have a comment on the case.

Halper, though, had a lot to say about what he thinks is a “landmark case.”

“The amount of the claim is relatively low and insignificant, but the case is very significant,” he said Thursday.

In his lawsuit, Halper says that he was eating a dinner salad prepared with the olives on July 13, 2017 when he bit down and, “to his amazement,” the olive contained a full pit. He immediately felt discomfort and checked the right side of his mouth, but due to his porcelain crowns, he wasn’t able to find any damage, according to the suit.

When he went to a dentist, though, he was informed that he had fractured one of his teeth, the suit alleges. The tooth needed to be extracted and Halper would need to get an implant, the first phase of which would cost $2,000, according to the suit.

Halper says he contacted G. L. Mezzetta, Inc. and was put in touch with their insurance provider. He was given a claim number, but, the suit alleges, the insurance company denied any liability and refused to settle the claim or pay for Halper’s medical costs.

This is not the first time Halper has filed a claim against Mezzetta alleging that an olive was jarred with its pit, but the earlier results weren’t as serious, according to the suit. The first incident was more than eight years ago, the suit says.

In the last decade, Halper said that he has filed claims and received settlements from the company at least two other times. He keeps eating the olives, he said, because the brine they jar the olives with is “second to none.”

“I guess I’m basically loyal to Mezzetta,” Halper said. “I love these olives. I shouldn’t be precluded from eating (them) and enjoying (them) simply because G. L. Mezzetta, Inc. doesn’t accept a strong enough responsibility to ensure in their processing and bottling that the pits are removed.”

The olive packaging does have a warning on it, according to the suit. The warning says “Caution: Due to mechanical pitting, a pit or pit fragment may remain in the olive.” Halper calls this warning “obscure” and “barely identifiable.”

He proposes in his suit that the label read: “Warning – serious danger – do not attempt to eat without personally physically opening up each Kalamata olive and probing for an olive pit,” or “Warning – Consuming these pitted Kalamata olives may result in serious injury to your teeth by biting down on a pit or pit fragments which may have not been removed.”

If they don’t want to change the label, he says, maybe they should stop processing and bottling pitted olive products and simply bottle whole grown Greek Kalamata olives.

Halper said that he is representing himself because no attorney would take the case pro bono. Although he needs — and would “entertain” — a financial settlement from the company so he can afford an implant, Harper says that he wants all olive processing companies to take more responsibility in either marking their products or ensuring that the pits are actually removed.

A case management conference is scheduled for May 23.