Two days before the November 2016 election, Brent Randol knew Measure Z was in trouble. “I talked to my mom, who lives in Napa. She’s 90,” Randol said at a recent meeting at the Odd Fellows Hall in St. Helena.
“Mom, how are you voting on Measure Z?” he asked.
Her response: “Not another damn tax, I’m voting no.”
Randol said at the July 10 meeting in St. Helena, “I’m on the Open Space District and I couldn’t get my mom’s vote. We’re in trouble.” Randol currently serves as elected representative on the Napa County Regional Park & Open Space District. He is also a St. Helena resident and a fourth-generation Napa County resident.
Measure Z would have provided a quarter-cent sales tax to support the Napa County Regional Park & Open Space District. It required a two-thirds vote and lost by 1 percent. “It passed everywhere in the county, but in the City of Napa,” Randol said.
Randol has served on the district since 2015 and is currently board president. On July 8, the board formally endorsed creating a new ballot measure to provide a quarter-cent sales tax to fund the district for the next 15 years. The next step is for the Napa County Board of Supervisors to place the measure on the March 3, 2020 ballot. The board may discuss it on Aug. 20. To pass, the measure needs a two-thirds vote. It is expected to raise $9 million annually.
“In doing the postmortem on the (failed) 2016 election, what we did then was we talked to our base. You guys are our base,” he told the gathering of several dozen people. “The problem is we don’t talk to people who don’t think we’re doing a great job or the people who don’t know what we do.”
That lack of visibility was made clear when Randol received a voicemail for his cellphone. The number is on Randol’s business card and he said the message was, “We’d like to sign up for St. Helena bocce and you’re the park and rec.” On July 10, he sarcastically told the crowd, “Yeah, we’re doing a bang-up job of telling people who we are.”
This year, the Open Space District is coordinating their efforts with the Napa County Land Trust, since it cannot spend Open Space District funds for political purposes. “The Land Trust did some polling for us and basically what it comes down to, if we put on a full-court press for the primary election, we need to be polling at 71 or 72 percent a week or two before the election.”
Randol said if passed, the quarter-cent sales tax would raise $9 million per year. What will be different this year than in 2016 is that 20 percent of the funds raised would go to parks and recreation projects in Napa County’s cities.
A successful ballot initiative formed the district in 2006 and Napa County was the eighth of nine counties in the Bay Area to form an open space district. Randol said although the ballot initiative passed, there was no funding mechanism for the district. “The rest of the Bay Area funds their open space districts with either sales taxes or property taxes or some kind of assessment,” he added.
The Napa County Board of Supervisors provides $800,000 or $900,000 annually to fund the district, half of which is used to acquire properties that come on the market, Randol said. “What concerns us is that every year we kinda go with our hands out (for funding).” He added the supervisors are wonderful, wanting to support the district, but added, someday they may not want to support the district. He said the supervisors could say, “That’s 800 grand that we’re going to spend on something else, like workforce housing.”
Randol said the district’s mission is to protect waterways, preserve wildlife habitat and create access to open space. He remembers when he was young he could traipse anywhere throughout Napa County.
“Being a kid, I was born in 1960, those were the days you could trespass anywhere, because you knew everybody. And nobody would kick you off the land,” he said. But today “that ship has sailed. And now, there’s government land, there’s county land and if you can’t get to it and have to go through private property, it just doesn’t work that way.”
He said the district’s mission is also educating the next generation. “I don’t know about you guys, but I grew up in the outdoors. I fished, I hiked, I did all that stuff. That’s where I got my love of the outdoors. I feel now that I’m doing it (instilling a love for the outdoors) with my daughter,” whose name is Liesl Wolf-Heinemann, who is often featured in Bill Ryan’s outdoors column holding a fish.
“We try to get children and students out in our parks, so they grow up with a love of the land. If you love something and you’re used to it, then you’re going to take care of it,” Randol said. “If you don’t love it, then you’re probably not going to.”
If passed, the open space district’s sales tax would be split in the following ways:
- At least 52 percent would be spent on preserving watersheds, rivers, lakes, open space and wildlife habitat;
- 25 percent on operating, maintaining and improving open space;
- 20 percent on parks and recreation projects in local cities; and
- 3 percent on administrative overhead.