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Election 2018
Measure C uncertainties freeze a decision on a Napa open space tax election

Citing the local political climate, Napa County open space officials have delayed deciding whether to try again with an open space sales tax ballot measure this November.

The wine industry, farmers, environmentalists and other groups are split in various directions over the unrelated Measure C. That’s the watershed and oak woodland protection initiative on the June 5 ballot.

The Napa County Regional Park and Open Space District Board of Directors decided Monday to wait until the Measure C battle sorts itself out before making a sales tax ballot measure decision.

“For us to pass a funding measure, we need both the supporters and opponents of Measure C on board with us,” district General Manager John Woodbury said. “Right now, those two groups are fighting each other in a very serious way.”

Measure C would limit how much oak woodlands could be cut down for new hillside vineyards and would strengthen watershed stream setbacks. Opponents and supporters have already clashed in court over the arguments that will appear in the county voter guide.

Woodbury suggested the Open Space District wait until after the June election to choose between going with an open space tax measure this November or possibly in November 2020. Board members agreed.

“It is a very challenging climate out there from many different aspects,” board member David Finigan said. “So I think we’ll have a better feel in June.”

The Open Space District previously championed Measure Z on the November 2016 ballot. The measure would have raised the sales tax by a quarter-cent to provide $8 million annually for parks and open space. One goal was to buy 30,000 acres of open space from willing sellers.

Voters in November 2016 gave the Measure Z quarter-cent sales tax for open space a 64.7 percent “yes” vote. That proved a losing effort, though, because this type of tax hike needs a two-thirds vote, or 66.6 percent, to win.

Measure C isn’t the only factor on the minds of Open Space District board members as they ponder another possible sales tax run. They are also looking at what the potential competition might be from other revenue-raising measures.

Board Member Tony Norris noted that local affordable housing advocates are talking about a county ballot measure at some point. He said Napa Valley College might try another bond measure for college facilities.

If the Open Space District takes up the issue again after the June 5 election, it will be faced with deadlines for a November ballot attempt. The Board of Supervisors must place a measure on the ballot by Aug. 13. However, the last Board of Supervisors meeting scheduled before that date is July 31.

For now, the Open Space District will content itself with rooting for California’s Proposition 68, the $4 billion parks, environment and water bond measure on the June 5 ballot. A successful statewide measure could provide some of its money to Napa County parks and open space efforts.

The Open Space District Board of Directors voted in January to endorse Proposition 68.

“It’s rolling along very well,” Norris said, adding he doesn’t see enough opposition to keep Proposition 68 from passing.

Local voters created the Napa County Regional Park and Open Space District in 2006 when they passed Measure I by a 54-percent-to-46-percent vote. They provided no funding, but the Board of Supervisors agreed to give the district a portion of the county’s transient occupancy tax receipts. In recent years, that contribution has tallied more than $800,000 annually.

The district runs such open space areas as Bothe-Napa Valley State Park and Moore Creek Park near Lake Hennessey. It has preserved more than 4,000 acres of open space and operates more than 40 miles of trails.

But a May 2015 report by a 15-member district advisory committee concluded the district has gone about as far as it can with the money it has.

“While impressive, the district’s accomplishments pale compared to what is needed to preserve Napa County’s most important remaining open space resources,” the report said.

Fallen tree exposes bee colony at Napa’s Fuller Park

The latest buzz in Napa can be found at one of its busiest parks – but it’s the kind that residents may want to treat with caution.

Since Sunday morning, yellow tape and striped barricades have blocked a sidewalk on the west side of Fuller Park, where a falling branch exposed a colony of honeybees about 30 feet up a sycamore along Jefferson Street. The cordon remained Tuesday as city parks workers and a local beekeeper tried to lure the bees into a wooden hive box below to take the insects away and remove the threat of stings to park visitors and passers-by.

A visitor reported the hive on Sunday to a Napa police dispatcher, who passed the news to the Parks and Recreation department, according to city parks supervisor Wade Finlinson. Workers closed 60 feet of sidewalk on Jefferson Street between Stockton and Oak streets, near the northwest quadrant of Fuller Park.

That day, a woman who happened to be at the park called John Humphrey, a beekeeper based on Silverado Trail who brought a wooden box to Fuller Park. A lure of honey inside was intended to draw first the queen – the sole egg-layer among the insects – and then the rest of the colony.

“The branch had rotted through the center, and that’s where the bees moved in,” he said Tuesday, estimating the hive may have numbered 3,000 insects and remained holed up for three years.

Shortly before noon Tuesday, the queen bee and her workers remained tightly bunched in the hollow left by the broken-off sycamore branch, with only one or two of the insects at a time occasionally straying a few feet into the air. As Finlinson and a park employee chatted about what to do next, a hive crate at the tree’s base remained empty and untouched, the bees not yet inclined to move house.

“At this point, we’re monitoring it to see if they’ll respond,” said Finlinson, holding a 3-inch chunk of darkened honeycomb that had toppled along with the tree branch. “Typically we want to relocate the hive, but because it’s 30 feet off the ground, it adds complexity.”

Sunny weather earlier in the week was giving way to gathering clouds, a foretaste of the rain that was forecast to arrive in Napa later in the day. The cool and overcast conditions were likely to make the bees less of a threat, according to Finlinson, who described the hive as composed of normal honeybees and not the Africanized variety known for their aggression.

No email or other notices were issued by the city because the insects were not considered an immediate hazard, he said.

Any overnight rain and falling temperatures were likely to kill bees on the outside of the colony’s mass, but Humphrey, the beekeeper, predicted he still can preserve the hive and take it to his property as long as the queen survives. If necessary, he even planned to offer spare protective suits to city parks workers to enable them to clear the colony themselves.

Across Fuller Park’s redwoods and turf, the playground at its heart was filled with a dozen or so toddlers and parents, oblivious to the insects balled up by the curb.

“Haven’t seen any bees here, and we’ve been here a couple hours now,” Lauren Kachur said amiably as her 1 ½-year-old daughter Gwendolyn clambered around and over a hip-high play structure. “It doesn’t bother me.”

When 2 Napa schools merge, former mustang and wildcat mascots will yield to an owl

The consolidation of Salvador and El Centro elementary schools in north Napa will result in one school featuring a new name, mascot and color scheme when it opens this August.

The new school, which will occupy the current El Centro campus, will be known as Willow Elementary. Its mascot will be the Owl, and the school colors will be willow green and copper.

“We wanted this to be a unification of two school sites,” Principal Pam Perkins explained to the school board last month, when she presented the new name and identity to trustees.

The school board on April 5 voted unanimously to approve the changes.

The Napa Valley Unified School District decided three years ago that Salvador and El Centro should be combined into one school due to declining enrollment.

The decision in 2015 meant all of Salvador’s students would eventually shift to El Centro’s campus, which has been undergoing considerable construction during the current school year so the new Willow Elementary is ready when the 2018-2019 school year begins come August.

This timetable means the district has only four months to finish everything. Perkins admitted the goal might seem ambitious given the furious construction activity currently underway on the campus.

“If you look at it, you might think, ‘Oh my gosh! How could that possibly happen?’” Perkins said in an interview last week.

The school district is constructing a new multi-purpose building along with two new classroom buildings, a new kindergarten wing, a new administration building, and new playgrounds.

Perkins, however, is confident that the district is “on track for meeting those deadlines.”

She said the concrete foundations are being put into place for the new buildings, and that the walls for some of them should be going up this month.

As for the new name and visual identity of Willow Elementary, Perkins said they began a process last spring to figure out what the new school should be called.

First, school officials sent out a survey to gain feedback from parents and others involved with both Salvador and El Centro.

The survey asked if the new school should bear one of the existing school names. About a hundred people responded, and most of them made it clear they didn’t like that idea.

Sixty people said “no” to keeping the El Centro name, and 91 rejected using the Salvador name.

Sixty-two said “yes” to renaming the combined school.

Following that, a 12-person task force was created to oversee the process for choosing a new name.

It consisted of retired El Centro teachers Jeff Johnson and Jim Sheldon, El Centro neighbor Sharyn Lindsey, Salvador alum Ashley Halliday, Salvador parents Melanie Merkner and Corinne Lavarias, El Centro parent Kim Brown, and Elba Marquez, whose children attend both schools.

The task force also included El Centro staff members Erika Ramirez and Kim Floyd,

Salvador staffer Shannon Hattyar, and Perkins, who was the principal of Salvador and was selected by the district to lead the new consolidated school.

Perkins told the school board that in selecting Willow Elementary, the new school’s acronym will be “WE,” which represents “one school together.”

When NVUSD first proposed consolidating the two schools, parents from Salvador and El Centro raised concerns and objections to the idea.

Trustee Robb Felder noted at last week’s school board meeting that the process wasn’t always easy.

“It hasn’t been without its bumps as these kinds of things will have,” said Felder.

But, he added, the selection of the new name seemed to go smoothly.

In a presentation to the school board, the choice of Willow was explained in multiple ways.

“Willow—Green, like the leaves on the branches, symbolizes nature, fertility, and life. It also represents balance, learning, growth and harmony,” according to a document.

It further stated: “Our image of the willow tree represents the strength, stability and structure of the trunk, standing firm and withstanding the greatest of challenges. It also means imagination, intuition & vision.”

As for the new Owl mascot, one student was quoted as saying: “It’s wild like the mustang and strong like the wildcat. It also represents Wisdom – which is what we, as students, aspire to learn and develop here at school.”

Perkins said the references to mustang and wildcat came from the existing mascots at Salvador and El Centro, respectively.

Napa County toasts the agricultural preserve at party

Napa County held a belated happy 50th birthday party for the agricultural preserve, complete with cake and a giant grape leaf of a new mascot named Preservin’ Irvin.

The party came one day late because the Board of Supervisors meets on Tuesdays. But supervisors didn’t want to miss the chance to mark the occasion.

No Napa wines were present in the Board of Supervisors chamber. Instead, the 50 or so attendees toasted the preserve with sparkling cider and calls to action.

“We’re celebrating the first 50 years of the preserve,” Board of Supervisors Chair Brad Wagenknecht said. “The next 50 years are on us. We have to make this work.”

A previous Board of Supervisors on April 9, 1968 created the agricultural preserve zoning district in much of the Napa Valley. The move was designed to keep a wave of ranchettes, subdivisions, shopping centers, industrial parks and other development from swallowing up farmland, as was happening in Santa Clara County.

Santa Clara Valley orchards gave way to world-famous Silicon Valley high-tech businesses. Instead, Napa Valley remained home to vineyards and wineries that brought the area its own share of international fame.

Sandy Elles, who in 2016 ended a 15-year-stint as executive director of the Napa County Farm Bureau, said the work of preserving agriculture isn’t over. She mentioned the late Volker Eisele as someone who continued fighting for preservation.

“We need the whole community’s support for now and forever, because once it paved over, it’s gone forever, the final harvest,” she told the gathering.

Hugh Davies of Schramsberg Vineyards addressed the gathering. His father, the late Jack Davies, headed a steering committee that in 1968 helped build public support for the agricultural preserve.

“Without that zoning, clearly we wouldn’t have the ag lands, we wouldn’t have this product, we wouldn’t have the community we live in,” Davies said.

Signs marking the agricultural preserve are ready to go up along Highway 29 and Silverado Trail, two at the north end of valley and two at the south end, Davies said. He said, perhaps jokingly, that county officials in the room might help with the necessary county permits.

Representatives for state Sen. Bill Dodd, D-Napa and Assemblywoman Cecilia Aguiar-Curry, D-Winters, presented state proclamations for the agricultural preserve. A representative for Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, presented a federal proclamation.

The county unveiled Preservin’ Irvin, a person wearing the costume of a giant, smiling grape leaf. Preservin’ Irvin walked around the room for photo opportunities with guests.

Those attending the event included former Supervisors Ginny Simms and John Tuteur, vintner Warren Winiarski, Napa City Councilman Scott Sedgley, St. Helena Mayor Alan Galbraith, Yountville Town Councilmembers Margie Mohler and Kerri Dorman and representatives from farming and wine groups.

Some attendees are on different sides in the contest over Measure C. The watershed and oak woodland preservation initiative is on the June 5 ballot. Among other things, it would limit the removal of oaks in the watershed to make way for new vineyards.

Measure C is Napa County’s latest land-use battle. But the agricultural preserve, a controversial undertaking in 1968 that is now universally praised, brought everyone together on this afternoon.

“I think most of us on the Board feel like we are the latest in the relay that keeps the agricultural preserve alive,” Wagenknecht said.