NAPA — Liz Alessio and Mary Luros were in position to win the two open Napa City Council seats in early returns from Tuesday’s election, with both challengers well ahead of three-term Councilmember Peter Mott.
In results released shortly after polls closed at 8 p.m., Alessio led a six-candidate field at 31.7 percent with 6,428 votes. Luros, a councilmember in 2015-16, was running second at 25.4 percent and 5,156 votes for the second council seat, ahead of Mott at 14.3 percent with 2,911 votes.
Trailing was Bernie Narvaez with 11.7 percent of the vote and 2,379 votes, followed by Ricky Hurtado with 10.9 percent and 2,225 votes and James Hinton at 5.74 percent with 1,164 votes.
The initial count was drawn from at least 20,000 ballots counted in the vote-by-mail race, according to John Tuteur, Napa County registrar of voters. More results are expected on Friday and again Nov. 13 and 14, covering at least 90 percent of ballots, although Tuteur said a close race might not be certified until the week of Nov. 26.
Alessio’s apparent road to victory was a journey she said pushed her beyond what she thought herself capable of when she announced her candidacy last year.
“I was driven beyond myself because I’ve seen the needs of the community and I want to help address those needs on the City Council,” she said at an election night celebration at the Silo’s club, where she accepted congratulations from Mayor Jill Techel and Councilmember Scott Sedgley. “I’m grateful for the opportunity to create a community that’s healthy enough that people can afford to work here, to live here, to retire here.”
Reached shortly after polls closed, Luros remained more measured in her optimism despite being 11 points ahead of Mott for the second council seat — largely because of the memory of her defeat in 2016 when she first ran for a full four-year term.
“I was not confident going in, because there were so many ways this race could’ve gone,” she said. “I’m confident I put a lot of hard work into this campaign and did everything I possibly could have, but it could’ve gone any direction.”
Despite Luros’ cautious tone, Mott conceded after the first wave of results was released Tuesday, saying he did not think he could come back from such a deficit. He congratulated Luros and Alessio for running great campaigns, and said he did not think that the fact that they significantly outraised him influenced the outcome of the race.
“It’s been my pleasure to serve the city for the last 12 years,” he said. “I think the city’s in good hands.”
Hurtado, the youngest candidate in the field, said he was proud of the way that his campaign was run and felt he achieved one of his main goals: getting political novices involved in politics. He said he looked forward to getting final results in a few days.
“With only 28 percent of the vote, we have so much more to go,” he said. “I always say ‘It’s not over ‘til it’s over.’”
“We did what we could, we knocked on doors … we listened to people,” he said. “That’s what it’s about.”
Despite trailing Alessio and Luros, Narvaez saw his council campaign as a springboard to the future — whether to run again in the 2020 election or to serve Napa in other ways.
“I’m disappointed but not sad,” he said. “I developed lot of relationships and friendships, and really got to know the community very well and from the inside out. When I look at 2020 and what I can do to help my community improve and help those in need, I’m better equipped because of what I learned in this campaign. Though I didn’t win, there was value in knowing my community even better.”
Narvaez said he would be open to joining a city committee that will advise the council and city officials in crafting a new general plan to guide growth and land uses. The council on Oct. 30 chose 13 advisers for the committee but left two seats open.
Hinton declined comment Tuesday night.
The top two vote-getters are expected to be sworn into office in early December, Techel said.
Five challengers entered the field to compete with Mott, who was first elected to the council in 2006. Luros and Alessio outdid the incumbent and other candidates in campaign fundraising, with Luros garnering $88,884 in donations since Jan. 1 and Alessio receiving $85,359, part of a total haul of more than $120,000.
From the spring onward, debates and candidate forums saw council contenders focus on finding ways to deal with high housing prices and a low apartment vacancy rate. Another major talking point became the city’s plans for a four-story downtown civic center on First Street, which is intended to centralize city and police offices — a project Luros, Alessio and others have warned is financially risky and may not meet the needs of rank-and-file law enforcement officers.
Alessio said reshaping city policy to create more affordable housing will be her early focus upon joining the City Council, including a push to restore an ordinance that reserved a percentage of units in new rental housing for lower-income tenants. Napa repealed its so-called inclusionary ordinance in 2012 after a state court ruling declared such laws an illegal form of rent control, but a 2017 state law restored cities’ rights to create mandatory set-asides.
In order to keep Napa livable for those staffing its hotels, restaurants and wine-based businesses, she said, “we have to take care of the people of Napa to support that, and taking care of housing needs has to be No. 1. ... We can do better in Napa; it’s time to do better.”
The only candidate besides Mott with previous council experience is Luros, a Napa lawyer who was appointed in 2015 and served for 22 months before losing the 2016 election.
Alessio, community program services coordinator for St. Joseph Health, and Narvaez, a former Marine who owns a Napa insurance agency, also have held city posts as members of the Napa parks commission.
Hurtado, community engagement manager for the Cope Family Center, is the second Latino to enter the Napa ballot alongside Narvaez. Hinton, a local advocate for marijuana legalization, previously ran for Congress in 2014 and the Napa County Board of Supervisors in 2016.