One of the most divisive election campaigns for a local measure in Napa County’s history also ended up being one of the most expensive.
Opponents and proponents of the Measure C watershed and oak woodlands protection initiative spent more than $1 million combined, most of it coming from the “no” side. Measure C narrowly lost in the June 5 election.
The winning “No on Measure C” side spent $835,013.89, or $46 per vote. The losing “Yes on Measure C” side spent $361,818, or $21 per vote, according to state-required financial reports filed this week with the county Election Division.
Measure C isn’t the first Napa County initiative election that saw big money on this scale bathing the valley in campaign mailers and signs. But there haven’t been many.
“The only one that came close was the Napa Pipe one,” said Registrar of Voters John Tuteur, who has held this post since 1998. “It was Measure N.”
An earlier version of Napa Pipe in 2008 called for 3,200 homes and seven-story buildings along the Napa River south of the city of Napa. Measure N would have put certain residential development decisions in the hands of voters instead of the Board of Supervisors, likely killing Napa Pipe.
Napa Pipe developers and financial backers spent more than $1.7 million opposing the measure, outspending proponents more than 16-1, the Napa Valley Register reported in 2008. Measure N narrowly lost. A slimmed-down version of Napa Pipe with 945 homes and a Costco have since won county approval and are slowly proceeding toward development.
Napa County Board of Supervisors Chair Brad Wagenknecht recalled another dust-up of an election. Measures W and X in 1996 would have allowed a 1,700-home development with hotel and two golf courses at Suscol Creek in the hills southeast of the city of Napa.
Texas-based Richland Co. used mailers and television and radio spots in an attempt to sway voters in favor of its proposed development. Opponents cried “foul” about some of the claims the company made.
“It was crazy,” said Wagenknecht, who along with Supervisor Diane Dillon opposed the measure in their pre-Board of Supervisors days.
Richland Co. spent more than $320,000—$522,000 in today’s dollars—and outspent opponents 6-1, the Register reported in 1996. Voters soundly defeated both measures. The Napa County Regional Park and Open Space District in 2015 and 2017 acquired land in the Suscol Creek area for its planned Suscol Headwaters park.
Money also flowed in the 2012 Measure U election over Angwin land use. Pacific Union College spent almost $500,000 to defeat the initiative, which voters turned down. Backers spent more than $100,000.
Whether there will be another big-spending Measure C campaign in 2020 remains to be seen. The Napa County Board of Supervisors is trying to defuse tensions by creating a strategic plan that, among other things, will look at watershed issues.
“We would just hope we could bring the whole community together around the responsibility we have and the duty we have for saying ‘yes’ to a healthy watershed,” Measure C co-author Jim Wilson said on Thursday.
Otherwise, he said, supporters will try another version of Measure C in 2020.
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Ryan Klobas of the Napa County Farm Bureau, which opposed Measure C, addressed supervisors on July 31 about the strategic plan. He said the county must look at watershed issues using a data-driven and science-based approach.
“The Board of Supervisors was always the right venue – we’ve consistently said this—to address these concerns,” he said. “The initiative process was never the correct venue to address these concerns.”
“Yes on Measure C” reported raising $287,113 and spending $361,818 from Jan. 1 through June 30, including non-monetary contributions.
Major donations in the last 15 days of the campaign included $21,900 from grapegrower Andy Beckstoffer, who contributed $51,900 for the year. Vintner Joyce Black Sears gave $9,749 and First Stampede LLC of St. Helena gave $5,000.
The campaign reported owing $67,816 to the Shute Mihaly & Weinberger law firm that worked on the initiative. Wilson said Measure C proponents need to do some fundraising. About half the legal bill is owed by Napa Valley Vintners, which helped craft the measure before later deciding to oppose it, he added.
Rex Stults of Napa Valley Vintners on Friday said the group has fulfilled all obligations regarding that previous partnership.
“No on Measure C” reported raising $824,179 and spending $835,013 from Jan. 1 through June 30.
Major donations in the last 15 days of the campaign included $30,000 from Hall Wines, $20,000 from vintner Charles Wagner, $11,742 from Constellation Brands, Inc., $11,742 from E&J Gallo and $7,000 from PG&E Corp.
Also on the June 5 ballot was Measure D to ban new personal use heliports. It won.
The “Yes on Measure D” campaign reported raising $121,198 and spending $108,986 from Jan. 1 through June 30.
The “No on Measure D” campaign reported raising $134,700 and spending $132,167. Most of the money came from the Palmaz family, which proposed to build a personal-use heliport.
Supervisor Diane Dillon beat challenger and local farmer Cio Perez to retain her seat on the Napa County Board of Supervisors.
Dillon reported raising $76,332 and spending $126,882 from Jan. 1 through June 30. She had no unpaid bills and, combined with money she raised in previous years, had a cash balance of $14,380.
Perez reported raising $85,942 and spending $114,297. His campaign income included a $21,000 loan to himself.