Pacific Union College appeared to be winning its fight Tuesday night to defeat Measure U, the hotly contested ballot measure that pitted Napa County’s only four-year college against foes fearful the school could trigger urban sprawl in the Upvalley village of Angwin.
Returns posted at 11:29 p.m. showed Measure U losing by more than 20 percentage points with 29,242 ballots counted. More than 60 percent of voters had voted against the measure.
Two other, far less controversial ballot measures were poised to pass by sizable margins.
Measure S, which is meant to clear roadblocks to a repair of the Napa County Airport runway, was leading with nearly 78 percent of voters supporting it. Measure V, a proposal to legalize food service for non-golfers at the Chardonnay Golf Club on Jameson Canyon Road, had 87 percent of voters in favor. No organized opposition had emerged against either measure.
Measure U would change the land use designations for three parcels in Angwin, two west of Howell Mountain Road and one north of the PUC campus.
The parcels along Howell Mountain Road, currently open space with a wastewater treatment plant, would be shifted from urban residential use to agricultural watersheds, while the third parcel would change from an urban to public institutional status.
PUC directors declared Measure U an infringement on the college’s property rights, and college President Heather Knight said that was likely the most persuasive argument among voters.
“The argument that Measure U tried to take away our private property rights, I think people are sensitive about that,” she said. “We’ve been here since 1909 and we’ve done a good job being stewards of the land through the years. When people understood what was trying to be done to us, I think they reacted strongly against that.”
Calling the school “asset-rich but cash-poor,” Knight said last month the school needs flexibility to sell some of its lands to bolster its endowment, fund scholarships and pay for repairs and capital improvements for the campus.
Save Rural Angwin and its backers have called Measure U a pre-emptive strike against any development that could raise the town’s population or erode its quiet rural character.
Save Rural Angwin faced a large fundraising gap against Measure U’s detractors. The No on U movement received $450,000 from Pacific Union for a publicity drive that included television commercials, while the conservation group raised $108,000 in Measure U’s support.
That dominance in money hamstrung the proponents in effectively delivering their message, and countering the negative messages from the opponents, according to Volker Eisele, a Chiles Valley grapegrower and organizer of the Measure U drive.
“They outspent us somewhere between five and six times. We couldn’t match them on television; there was no way,” he said at the Napa County Farm Bureau offices after the polls closed. “For that, you have to have money, lots of it.”
Measure S would remove a weight limit, imposed by voters in 1974, on the Napa airport runway that has blocked plans to rebuild the surface to current federal standards and load-bearing capacities. With the measure’s passage, the county would seek funding from the Federal Aviation Administration, which could arrive as early as 2016.
The large lead for the runway measure showed county residents’ understanding of the airport’s importance even for those unlikely to use it, said Mark Willey, chief executive of Napa Jet Center.
“We’re thrilled this passed, and the fact it’s passing by such a large margin shows that people know the airport affects them in a positive way, (helping) visitors bring in the money we need,” he said.
Measure V would allow the restaurant and banquet center at the Chardonnay Golf Club to openly serve the general public. The course’s county use permit, which it received on its 1986 opening, limits its food service to visitors playing golf or arriving in connection with a golf event.
Chardonnay has never enforced the ban on serving non-golfers.
Though Chardonnay’s eatery is now on solid legal ground, the club’s general manager, Roger Billings, expected only modest changes early on — and targeting the audience closest to the golf course.
“We’ll still focus on breakfast and lunch, but now we can promote the fact that we’re close to the business park, because they have limited options for lunch and we can be one more option for them,” he said.
Register reporter Peter Jensen contributed to this story.