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Model Railroad Group Sues Napa Valley Expo

The Napa Valley Model Railroad Historical Society is suing the 25th Agricultural District Fair Board, the governing body of the Napa Valley Expo, to remain at the fairground on Third Street. The board had in July to end the group's lease on Dec. 31 after 47 years.

J.L. Sousa, Register file photo

A group of model railroad enthusiasts has gained itself a little more time in its battle with Napa Valley Expo over its longtime lease at the fairgrounds.

A court motion by the Expo to evict the Napa Valley Model Railroad Historical Society from its building at the First Street facility was dismissed from Napa County Superior Court late last month, and the fair then re-filed its case. Fair board president John Dunbar confirmed the development at the agency’s Tuesday meeting, as did Daniel Jonas, president of the model train group.

Dismissal of the Expo’s “unlawful detainer” filing – by which fair directors sought to enforce the end of the train group’s lease on Dec. 31 – resets the clock for the nonprofit. The rail society again got 30 days, plus mailing time, to vacate its exhibition space at the fairground.

Previously, Expo directors gave the model railroad group slightly more than a month’s notice ahead of the lease’s original end date.

The Napa case is one of two pitting the state-owned Expo, formally known as the 25th District Agricultural Association, against the model railroad society, which has exhibited its trains at the fairground for 47 years. Fair board members voted in July not to renew the group’s lease, citing future plans to reuse the site as well as the below-market rent of $180 a month.

The rail society sued the Expo in Alameda County Superior Court on Dec. 29, two days before the lease’s expiration, to stop the eviction. In response, fairground leaders went to Napa court Jan. 3 to seek an eviction order, but the rail group filed its own motion in Napa seeking to dismiss the local case and put the decision in the hands of the Alameda court. The court will rule on the train society’s contention that removing its rail building would illegally launch the Expo’s planned renovation of the grounds without a state-required environmental study.

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In mid-January, directors of the state-owned Expo opened the miniature rail exhibit – which spans 4,600 square feet over two Quonset huts joined at right angles – to visits by a Cal Fire inspector and an independent structural engineer.

Earlier, Dunbar said findings from those inspections would help determine whether the railroad building must be condemned or overhauled, but only the engineer’s report has been completed, according to the Expo’s chief executive, Joe Anderson.

Members of the model rail group have made no moves to dismantle their elaborate layout of rails, trains, dioramas and switching equipment despite the Expo’s moves to close their headquarters. The society has continued to invite spectators to open houses showcasing their handiwork with the latest event scheduled for 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday.

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City of Napa/Town of Yountville Reporter

Howard Yune covers the city of Napa and the town of Yountville. He has been a reporter and photographer for the Register since 2011, and previously wrote for the Marysville Appeal-Democrat, Anaheim Bulletin and Coos Bay (Oregon) World.