A ballot measure that would introduce rent stabilization at St. Helena’s Vineyard Valley Mobile Home Park was trailing in early returns released at 8:01 p.m. Tuesday.
With more ballots left to count, Measure F had received 792 no votes (60.1 percent) and 525 yes votes (39.9 percent). It needs a simple majority of 50 percent plus one to pass.
According to the registrar of voters’ website, updated results of the mail-in special election will be released by 5 p.m. Tuesday, June 11. The election is scheduled to be certified on Thursday, June 13.
“I’m just delighted,” said Suzanne James, who worked on the No on F campaign. “I’m very pleased, very optimistic that we’re going to prevail.”
Andree Bryan, who also campaigned against Measure F, said she hadn’t expected it to be trailing by such a large margin. The majority of voters seem to have aligned themselves with park residents who overwhelmingly oppose Measure F and value their relationship with the owners, who have never imposed unreasonable rent increases, she said.
“At the end of the day, it was a win of democracy,” Bryan said.
“It’s disappointing,” said Michael Merriman, who campaigned in favor of Measure F. “We’ve certainly worked very very hard to try to make our case in town.”
With another count coming next week, it’s too soon to tell whether the election could swing in favor of Measure F, Merriman said. But he sounded doubtful.
“I don’t know if there’s 300 supporters out there who ran to the polls at the last minute,” Merriman said. “I would love for that to be true but I doubt that it’s a reality.”
James, Bryan and Merriman all live at Vineyard Valley, which is sharply divided on the merits of Measure F. Supporters say it would protect residents from sharp rent increases in case the park is sold, but opponents say it would jeopardize the park’s business model and interfere with a healthy relationship between the park’s owners and residents.
Measure F would enact an ordinance passed by the City Council last November allowing mobile home park residents to choose between a long-term lease subject to the park’s usual rent increases of 3 percent per year or a short-term lease of 12 months or less with maximum rent increases tied to changes in the Consumer Price Index.
Opponents, including the owners of Vineyard Valley, mounted a referendum and gathered enough signatures to force the council to repeal the ordinance or put it on the ballot. The council chose to call an election, at an estimated cost of $30,000.
As of May 18, opponents had outraised and outspent supporters. The No on F campaign had received $72,623.44 and spent $70,894.18, with most contributions coming from the trade organization representing mobile home park owners, the head of Vineyard Valley’s ownership group, and other mobile home park owners.
Supporters had raised $12,318 and spent $6,526.99, with most contributions coming from St. Helena residents.
On Tuesday morning, Registrar of Voters John Tuteur and his staff began to count 1,131 ballots that they’d already received, plus any ballots that are left at the drop box in front of the library or arrive in the mail.
Turnout was shaping up to be substantially lower than the November midterm, when 2,781 of St. Helena’s 3,441 registered voters cast ballots – a rate of almost 81 percent.
As of 1:30 p.m., only five people had visited the vote center at the Napa Valley College Upper Valley Campus. Staffers, who are primarily there to help voters who have problems, said most people seem to be voting by mail or using the drop box.
Staffers at the vote center included Kelly Briano, Paula French, Marvin Humphrey and Michele Marchand.