An epic campaign clash over Napa County’s Measure C is coming down to an epic, slow-motion finish that will take days, and possibly weeks, to unfold.
The county Election Division released a vote tally at 10:39 p.m. Tuesday that included only four more ballots than the initial, 8:01 p.m. count. The controversial watershed and oak woodlands protection initiative led 7,191 to 7,149, or 50.15 percent to 49.85 percent.
In two other high-profile local contests, Measure D, which would ban private heliports, seemed on a path to winning, while Supervisor Diane Dillon had a strong lead for re-election in District 3.
Registrar of Voters John Tuteur said Wednesday he expects his office to release an updated tally on Friday afternoon, perhaps another 3,000 to 4,000 ballots. Another update should come Monday, then Tuesday, then perhaps Wednesday.
“By that point, I think we’ll have a great majority of the ballots processed,” Tuteur said.
But even that might not decide the Measure C race. Tuteur said the outcome could remain in doubt until the county certifies the election, which could happen the last week of June.
Measure C opponents and proponents are both hoping their mailers, door-to-door visits, phone calls and other outreach efforts swayed enough voters to tilt the tight race in their favor.
“That’s why the GOTV (get out the vote) efforts are so important,” said Ryan Klobas of the Napa County Farm Bureau. The Farm Bureau, Napa Valley Grapegrowers, Napa Valley Vintners and Winegrowers of Napa County opposed the initiative.
Measure C co-author Jim Wilson said hundreds of Yes on Measure C volunteers spent thousands of hours trying to reach voters.
Measure C would require county permits to cut down oak woodlands in the agricultural watershed after the next 795 acres of oak woodlands are removed, with new vineyards not listed among the uses eligible for a permit. It would strengthen stream setbacks, among other things.
Opponents said Measure C is anti-agriculture and not needed given strict county conservation laws. Proponents said it will protect water quality in watersheds that drain to reservoirs serving local cities and to the Napa River.
A Yes on Measure C press release expressed confidence in victory.
“We believe that Napa County residents have had enough of the big corporations and developers who have claimed far too much influence in the valley, and that ultimately the vote will break in our favor,” the statement said.
But Measure C supporters also acknowledged that victory is far from certain.
“Regardless of the final outcome of tonight’s election, we hope that our community will come together to do what it takes to protect our water supplies and quality of life for our children and our grandchildren,” the statement said.
Klobas noted a county pre-election legal analysis of Measure C said a successful initiative could lead to lawsuits. But, he said, the Farm Bureau hasn’t decided to sue if Measure C wins. He said a victorious Measure C would continue to be contentious because of the difficulty of changing any provisions, with another election required.
If Measure C loses, the Farm Bureau is willing to talk to Measure C supporters about oak and watershed protection issues, Klobas said. Even though each side has accused the other of spreading misinformation, Klobas said opponents and proponents could come together.
“I think the climate would be different in a situation where we’re not in a heated, divisive election,” Klobas said.
Measure C proponents and opponents have debated when the 795-acre oak woodland removal limit would be reached. Proponents say the limit should last until 2030. Opponents say oaks lost to the October wildfires could trigger the limit immediately.
County Planning, Building and Environmental Services Director David Morrison said the county has yet to determine whether oaks killed in fires caused by arson or human negligence would count toward the limit. If Measure C passes, the county will interpret its provisions.
Meanwhile, Measure D — which bans new personal-use heliports in Napa County — looks to be a winner. It took a commanding early lead of 8,689 to 5,542, or 61 percent to 39 percent.
The Palmaz family wants to build a personal-use heliport on Mount George. The Planning Commission turned down the Palmaz application last September and Palmaz appealed to the Board of Supervisors, with a hearing set for July 10. A Measure D victory would render that hearing unnecessary.
“From the county’s standpoint, once the initiative is put into law, the Board wouldn’t have the ability to approve a personal-use heliport and the issue would be moot,” Deputy County Counsel Laura Anderson said. “This is all contingent on the initiative not being legally challenged and found invalid.”
Attorney Brian Russell said on behalf of the Palmaz family on Tuesday evening that his clients have yet to decide whether to sue over Measure D, should it win. A county pre-election analysis of the measure said it might be vulnerable to a lawsuit on several points.
Russell said the Palmaz family followed all the rules in applying for a personal-use heliport and proved a heliport wouldn’t impact neighbors. A county environmental impact report said the heliport with mitigations wouldn’t cause noise, safety or other problems, though opponents disagreed with these conclusions.
Calistoga resident George Caloyannidis spearheaded the Measure D effort. He and other supporters want to keep personal-use heliports from proliferating in Napa Valley.
“I think it’s an issue that resonates with people we talked to as we collected signatures to put it on the ballot,” he said.
The 3rd District Napa County Board of Supervisors seat for the Upvalley and eastern county is also on the ballot. Incumbent Supervisor Diane Dillon led challenger and local farmer Cio Perez, 1,978 votes to 1,556 votes, or 56 percent to 44 percent.
Supervisor Brad Wagenknecht had no challenger for his 1st District seat that covers the southwest county and a chunk of the central city of Napa.
Other county office races also had only the names of incumbents on the ballot. Assessor-Recorder-County Clerk Tuteur, Auditor-Controller Tracy Schulze, District Attorney Allison Haley, Sheriff-Coroner John Robertson, Treasurer-Tax Collector Tamie Frasier and county Superintendent of Schools Barbara Nemko all won re-election.