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Blakeley Construction demolition of its Calistoga offices (copy)

Dick Blakeley watches in 2016 as a member of his construction crew uses an excavator to demolish a Blakeley Construction office that had been built without a building permit. On Tuesday, the Napa County Board of Supervisors said it would vote to allow the business to remain where it is outside Calistoga without submitting the issue to county voters.

A split Napa County Board of Supervisors decided Blakeley Construction can remain on agriculturally zoned land near Calistoga without having to win a vote of the people.

Blakeley owners and their supporters gathered enough signatures to qualify a measure for the June 5 election. That gave supervisors under state election law a choice: adopt the measure as written or place it on the ballot.

By a 3-2 vote, the Board on Tuesday signaled its intent to adopt the measure into law. It will make that decision official with a vote next week.

Napa County’s landmark Measure J in 1990 and its successor, Measure P, require initiatives to change agricultural land designations. The Board of Supervisors placed all previous Measure J votes on the ballot, from the Stanly Lane pumpkin patch to Bistro Don Giovanni outdoor dining.

Supervisor Diane Dillon, who represents the sprawling 3rd supervisorial district stretching from Napa to Calistoga, asked her colleagues on the Board to adopt the Blakeley measure outright.

“I’ve been concerned from the start of this process that going to the ballot with this would be a different situation than we’ve ever faced before,” Dillon said.

She pointed to the many people in the Calistoga area who praised Blakeley Construction and asked the Board to adopt the measure. She expressed concern that residents in Napa and American Canyon might not understand the small community dynamics in play.

Supervisors Ryan Gregory and Belia Ramos supported adopting the Blakeley initiative. But Supervisors Alfredo Pedroza and Brad Wagenknecht wanted a vote of the people, not because they opposed Blakeley, but because they wanted to avoid setting a precedent.

“The case has been very compelling here,” Wagenknecht said. “The case is always very compelling to do it differently than we’ve done and the next time it will be a compelling case.”

Pedroza expressed similar sentiments.

“This is a tough one for me,” Pedroza said. “I think the Blakeley story does resonate with people in all parts of the county, because it’s a great story.”

Napa County began zoning in 1955. Blakeley Construction went into business in 1962 at 310 Franz Valley School Road on land zoned for agriculture. Neighbor complaints about the business a couple of years ago led to a county investigation.

The county ruled that Blakeley Construction is in an improper zoning district and also had several structures without building permits. A court settlement called for the Blakeleys to close the business in June of this year.

Instead, second-generation owners Dick and Kelly Blakeley turned to a ballot measure that would allow paving businesses established July 1, 1968 or earlier within a mile of a city to remain. Supporters packed the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday asking supervisors to adopt the measure outright.

Calistoga Mayor Chris Canning talked about the cost of an election campaign. He asked what good it would do for the Blakeleys to win an election and no longer have the money to operate.

“This is not a change in land use,” Canning said. “It’s simply permission for continuation of six decades of land use.”

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Truman Houk said he met Blakeley Construction founder Charles Blakeley in the late 1950s. Charles Blakeley believed after talking with county officials that his business had been grandfathered in.

“They weren’t trying to hide anything,” Houk said. “They were and are highly regarded by the community for doing outstanding work.”

Gregory agreed. There has been a lot of what looks like legitimacy along the way, such as contracts by the county to use Blakeley Construction, he said.

Melissa Kennedy of Franz Valley School Road offered a different view. She asked why a licensed contractor such as the Blakeleys would have buildings without permits. She asked why, if the Blakeleys are central to Calistoga, the city doesn’t make room for them.

“There needs to be some truth telling here,” Kennedy said.

Attorney Paul Carey of Dickenson, Peatman & Fogarty said it would be illegal for the Board of Supervisors to adopt the initiative.

“Let this be decided by the people who are intended to decide it, which are the members of this community, not just the handful of folks who are here today,” he said.

County legal staff disagreed and said the Board of Supervisors could adopt the initiative. Ramos addressed the issue of past code violations.

“My understanding is this would allow all of us to reset the button,” Ramos told the Blakeleys. “It comes with the understanding you will comply and we will enforce.”