Napa County supervisors discussed why they and not voters should pass an initiative allowing Blakeley Construction to remain on agriculturally zoned land near Calistoga.
Blakeley supporters gathered enough signatures to qualify their initiative for the ballot under Measure P. Measure P and its predecessor, Measure J, protect agriculture from development by putting most land-use changes involving farmland in the hands of voters.
The Board of Supervisors on Tuesday followed through on its previously announced intent to adopt the Blakeley-supported initiative by a 3-2 vote, rather than place it on the ballot.
All 15 previous Measure J and Measure P proposals – from the Stanly Lane pumpkin patch to the Soscol Creek housing development—went to the ballot. Since 1990, voters have passed seven proposals and rejected eight.
Can supervisors take a Measure J/P decision out of voters’ hands? Measure J says that certain agricultural land use policies “shall not be amended unless such amendment is approved by vote of the people.”
But state election law requires a board of supervisors presented with a qualifying citizen-driven initiative to either adopt it as written or place it on the ballot. County staff stuck with the state law.
“We don’t believe the electorate could nullify or curtail or limit those choices,” Deputy County Counsel Silva Darbinian told supervisors.
Nor is that a new county position. A 2007 agenda for a Stanly Lane deli initiative gave supervisors the same choice of adopting or placing on the ballot.
Attorney Paul Carey of Dickenson Peatman & Fogarty said the Board of Supervisors was depriving citizens of the right to vote under Measures J and P.
“This is an issue that will eventually be decided by the courts,” he said.
Supervisors wrestled with another question. They accepted they had the right to adopt the Blakeley-supported initiative, then asked whether they should set a precedent by doing so.
Warren Winiarski, who founded Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars and supported the formation of the agricultural preserve in 1968, asked supervisors to place the measure on the ballot. He called citizens the “guardians” of agricultural land use changes.
“The benefits sought by the Blakeley initiative should be gained not by three votes on any Tuesday, but by the citizens of the county who will be affected by this initiative,” Winiarski said.
That remark referred to one of the rationales for Measures J and P. Supporters have long said the measures exist to stop the Board of Supervisors from changing agricultural designations on any given Tuesday.
Winiarski pointed out that the initiative doesn’t refer to Blakeley Construction by name, but would allow paving businesses established before 1968 to be on agricultural watershed land within a mile of a city. County staff has heard anecdotally that there may be other such businesses operating improperly that might meet the same criteria.
Others urged the Board to follow through and adopt the Blakeley initiative. Some said that the 56-year-old Blakeley business is important to the small-town Calistoga area, yet far from the voter strongholds of Napa and American Canyon that would decide its fate.
“This is a unique matter that does warrant exceptional consideration from the Board,” Calistoga Mayor Chris Canning said.
Eve Kahn, a south county resident belonging to Get a Grip on Growth, pointed to the Lake Berryessa boat storage expansion that passed under Measure J in 2002. Lake Berryessa is more remote than Calistoga, she said.
Supervisor Diane Dillon, who represents the 3rd supervisorial district that includes Calistoga, voted to adopt the Blakeley initiative rather than go to the ballot. She worked to pass Measure J in 1990.
Dillon pointed to an advertisement that Measure J proponents ran in 1990. It promised the measure would allow voters to decide if agricultural land should be rezoned for housing, industry or shopping centers.
“That’s not what’s being proposed here,” Dillon said, given Blakeley Construction has existed on agricultural land since 1962.
Nor did she see the decision as a sea change in county policy that in the past dictated placing Measures P/J initiatives on the ballot. It took almost 30 years for an exception to arise, Dillon said.
“Adopting this particular initiative as an ordinance means there’s an extraordinarily high bar for any initiative this board may adopt in the future,” Dillon said.
Supervisor Ryan Gregory, who voted to adopt the Blakeley initiative, said Measures J and P are important to him. But the measures are about proposals for projects people want to do in the future.
“This is a about a business that was there even before the Ag Preserve existed,” Gregory said.
Without Measures J and P, Blakeley Construction could be a legal, noncomforming use in the agricultural watershed, Supervisor Belia Ramos said. She noted supporters had the heavy lift of gathering 3,792 signatures from valid local voters to bring the initiative before supervisors.
“Clearly, they met that burden,” Ramos said.
Supervisors Alfredo Pedroza and Brad Wagenknecht, while saying nothing to oppose Blakeley, wanted the initiative on the ballot.
“It’s more about principle and the vision I have for Napa and making sure there’s a way we do business here,” Pedroza said.
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.
With the initiative adopted by the Board on Tuesday, Blakeley Construction no longer has to close this June. Ramos and Gregory cast their “aye” votes by phone from Washington, D.C., where they are attending a National Association of Counties conference.