Developer Terry McGrath and supporters of the Watson Ranch project are determined to stop a union-sponsored referendum drive from gathering the necessary signatures to qualify it for the election ballot.
“This is very, very personal,” said McGrath in an interview on Nov. 15. “I’ve given 13 years of my life to this project, and I’m not about to let some out-of-town people try to steal from this city what it deserves.”
Watson Ranch, the largest development in American Canyon’s history, would build 1,250 homes of varying size, a town center called the “Napa Valley Ruins & Gardens,” plus new roads intended to ease traffic congestion in town and on Highway 29, as well as new parks, schools, trails and more.
“Everything is extraordinary” about the project, according to McGrath.
The developer said a lot of local people and groups support Watson Ranch — support he will count on if the referendum goes before a vote of American Canyon residents.
“If that referendum qualifies, and [the unions] bring that fight to this town, I think they’re going to find that they’ve taken on an impossible task because of all the different vested interests in this [project],” said McGrath.
“This is not just about Terry McGrath,” he said. “This is about the community, the city, the county, the region.”
McGrath also promised to not hold back if the fate of his project rests on a referendum vote.
“If we’re forced to oppose that referendum, we will educate every single registered voter in this town over the next two years,” he said, plus this: “I’m prepared to fight the necessary fight and devote the necessary resources to it.”
“I won’t back down,” McGrath said.
The American Canyon Chamber of Commerce is also opposing the referendum drive. President and CEO Mandy Le believes too many people in American Canyon support Watson Ranch for the referendum to succeed.
“The residents want this” along with the business community, Le said.
Once the referendum drive started collecting signatures, the Chamber began its own campaign to stop it by encouraging residents to not sign on.
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“We’re trying to educate” people through social media and other means, according to Le.
On Nov. 13, the Chamber posted on its Facebook page saying: “It’s time to meet your neighbors and unite together to say NO TO THIS PETITION!”
The post also urged residents “Don’t answer the door!” and “Don’t be fooled!” along with telling them not to sign the petition.
Le says the “professional petitioners” collecting signatures have resorted to using false information about Watson Ranch to gain supporters for the referendum.
“You can take any piece of that project and morph into something that’s not true,” she said.
Some residents have posted on Nextdoor warning of the falsehoods being employed by petitioners.
One local citizen wrote on Sunday that they encountered a petitioner near the wetlands, but insisted they were backing Watson Ranch.
“I told him I’m for the project, and he said he was too and that’s why he needed my signature. The petition clearly stated the referendum [is] against [it]. Then [he] proceeded to tell me [American Canyon] had a population of 50,000 and only 1,000 were registered to vote. Blatant lies. And comical. Watch out for the liars.”
The city’s population is just over 20,000 residents, and the most recent election data says American Canyon has more than 11,000 registered voters.
City Manager Jason Holley discussed the referendum in his weekly Friday newsletter to the community on Nov. 16.
Holley said the law allows signature gatherers to be financially compensated by the backers of the referendum. “Ironically, neither the financial backers nor their signature gatherers have to be American Canyon residents. However, they are supposed to accurately explain the decision they seek to overturn.”
He also told readers that those who have signed the petition “are allowed to withdraw their signature if they change their mind.”
“If you are approached by a signature gatherer,” Holley wrote, “please ask them to explain the decision so you can make an informed choice.”