The union representing Napa Police officers is opening its campaign checkbook wider than it has this decade – and is using its funds to boost two challengers in this November’s City Council election.
Cash and other contributions made by the Napa Police Officers’ Association (NPOA) have totaled $51,327 since last month, all in support of Mary Luros and Liz Alessio, according to state-required Form 460 financial disclosure records.
That sum includes $20,000 given on Sept. 5 to the Oakland-based political consulting firm Tramutola Associates, $12,931 on Sept. 26 for printed campaign materials, and $18,396 on Monday for more printing work, finance records indicate.
Luros and Alessio are two of the five challengers to the three-term incumbent Peter Mott for two open council seats. Luros, a Napa attorney, served 22 months on the council before losing in the 2016 election. Alessio, who coordinates senior community services for Queen of the Valley Medical Center, previously served on the city parks commission.
Recent campaign mailers paid for by the NPOA have emphasized opposition by Alessio and Luros to Napa’s plans for a four-story downtown civic center, which would accommodate the police station as well as other city departments.
A four-page brochure calling the project “a multimillion-dollar mistake” includes both women’s photos and urges officials not to combine a city hall and a police station, saying law enforcement buildings require higher security and officers deserve more say in the design.
Another, letter-style mailing in the name of police union president Patrick Wilson restates the group’s case against the civic center’s cost and design, and “enthusiastically endorses” Luros and Alessio for supporting the group’s stance.
NPOA’s spending in the 2018 council race outstrips its efforts in local elections going back to at least 2010, according to city documents. Previous expenditures have included $2,500 in 2017 for county District Attorney Allison Haley, $1,000 in 2015 and again in 2016 to support Councilmember Scott Sedgley (who was re-elected in 2016), and $1,750 on behalf of Sedgley and $1,500 in support of Alfredo Pedroza in the 2012 Napa council election (both were elected to their first terms).
The sums of money needed for a downtown city headquarters – and opposition in the ranks to a building that combines police and civilian functions – has justified the union spending more money than ever on an election race, Wilson told the Register.
“We’ve seen the council’s decisions, which have been to continue with this project,” he said Wednesday night. “Over the last year and half we’ve been addressing our concerns to the city regarding this project, and it’s continued. Therefore, since this is strictly a council decision, we’re pretty much left with no other option but to support candidates that are opposed to this project or at least interested in slowing it down to get a better look at it.”
Members of the police association spoke with all six council candidates starting in June before deciding in mid-August to support Alessio and Luros, and agreed to distribute mailers, said Aaron Medina, the group’s director at large.
Meanwhile, the NPOA has expressed its opposition in other ways, including sending more than 30 members to a September City Council meeting at which Wilson compared a downtown civic center to “a two-door Mercedes coupe (when) to be able to serve the community, we need an eight-passenger van.”
Unlike the campaign committees of those running for elected office, independent expenditure committees such as the NPOA do not coordinate with candidates or fund them but instead advertise for election hopefuls on their own, with their own funding.
“I’m running my own campaign, doing my best to get the message out about why I’m running and my commitment level,” Alessio said Wednesday of the police union’s spending on her behalf. Alessio’s campaign gathered $73,493 in contributions and spent $47,770 between Jan. 1 and Sept. 22, according to financial records filed in late September.
Alessio was unsure how much of a lift police union mailings would give her City Council bid. But she suggested the group’s focus on a future civic center could benefit her simply by informing voters not yet aware of the project and its cost, which has been estimated at $121 million including temporary office space and other expenses.
“With the civic center, even though more information has come out in the last six months, it’s still fairly new for a lot of people,” she said. “When I knock on doors, a lot of people are still not aware of what’s going on, about the pluses and minuses of the project. It brings attention to people that there is a civic center (proposal) and police officers have concerns.”
Attempts to contact Luros and incumbent Councilmember Peter Mott were unsuccessful.
Challenger James Hinton has not been endorsed in the NPOA mailers but described himself as the strongest opponent of the proposed city hall project. He has urged Napa officials not to modify the design, but to cancel its contract with its development partner Plenary Group and rethink the plan anew – particularly in the absence of a final plan to redevelop the current City Hall block on Second Street with housing and hotel rooms.
“Does anybody else say they want to terminate the contract with Plenary?” he said Thursday. “The project is so flawed (that) if you can’t get anyone to build a downtown Napa hotel in two years, what does that tell you? It’s time to terminate the contract and stop the bleeding.”
The remaining two council hopefuls, meanwhile, took the police union’s support for Alessio and Luros in stride. “It’s a challenge for sure – but it’s people who get to vote, people who are the ones who decide and it’s people who I’m targeting,” said Ricky Hurtado. “They might have money but we have the people power.”
“The way I look at the big picture, we all have a right to pursue within the law what we think is right for our community, as I am doing,” Bernie Narvaez said. “I’ll do the best I can to win, to make the positive change our community needs, and (other candidates) will do the same thing. We may have different routes to doing it but at end of the day, my hope is that we all get to the same place.”
A spokesman for Plenary, which is in an exclusive negotiating period with Napa on the civic center, predicted any delay or rethinking of the project would only harm city employees working in obsolete facilities.
“It’s the reason why the city made the decisions it’s made on the civic center,” said Larry Kamer. “It’s certainly not a done deal. But if we delay, first, workers will work longer in a substandard building, which can, and likely will, affect emergency response when the next quake or flood or fire happens. Second, the one thing we know raises costs 100 percent of the time is delay. I don’t know how you can have it both ways.”
Kamer also expressed the developer’s willingness to listen to the concerns shared by Alessio and Luros.
“After the election we can have a sober dialogue about civic center,” he said Thursday. “I think they’ll be willing to hear the full 360 on this project.”
Editor's note: This item has been modified to correct the name of candidate Liz Alessio.