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Shelter-in-home repercussions may doom 2 proposed Napa County ballot measures

Shelter-in-home repercussions may doom 2 proposed Napa County ballot measures

Yes on Measure C copy

Measure C, the Napa County Watershed & Oak Woodland Protection measure, narrowly lost in the June 2018 election. An effort to put a similar measure on this November's ballot is running up against shelter-in-home restrictions.

Proposed November ballot measures on watershed protections and on cannabis won’t get signature-gathering passes from the Napa County Board of Supervisors amid the COVID-19 crisis.

Initiative proponents said shelter-at-home orders make it difficult, if not impossible, for them to gather the required more than 7,000 signatures by May 8. They asked supervisors to simply place the initiatives on the Nov. 3 ballot.

Supervisors on Thursday declined to do so unanimously.

“Naturally, we’re disappointed,” said Mike Hackett, a backer of the proposed watershed protection initiative, on Monday. “We’re suspending work toward an initiative for 2020. The health of our community, both nationally and locally, is of upmost concern to everyone. The initiative will have to take a back seat for a while.”

Stephanie Honig is a backer of a separate, proposed initiative that would legalize and regulate commercial cannabis cultivation and manufacturing in the unincorporated county.

“The inability to gather signatures is an unintended consequence to keeping us all healthy,” she said Monday in an email. “This issue is not unique to Napa County.”

Cannabis initiative backers will wait to see what actions Gov. Gavin Newsom might take statewide to address the situation, she said.

Supervisors gave reasons for not wanting to place the initiatives on the ballot without qualifying petitions.

Citizens’ initiatives are an important democratic right, Supervisor Ryan Gregory said. Collecting signatures is an important part of the process because it shows the community thinks a proposed ballot measure is worth spending taxpayer dollars on.

“Taking that step out doesn’t feel right to me,” Gregory said.

Other supervisors agreed.

“I don’t believe in the Board being involved in putting our thumbs on the scales of the initiative process,” Supervisor Brad Wagenknecht said.

More importantly, Gregory said, the county is being asked to take the initiatives, turn them into county projects and work to advance them to the ballot. The county needs all hands on deck to address the COVID-19 recovery, he said.

The Napa County Farm Bureau and Winegrowers of Napa County opposed having the Board of Supervisors place the initiatives on the ballot.

If proponents can’t qualify their local initiatives for the November 2020 ballot, they could aim for March 2022 or November 2022.

County officials on Thursday weren’t certain if backers for local or state initiatives could legally try to gather signatures under the state’s shelter-at-home order. The order lists election personnel as part of the “essential workforce” that can still work.

The question is whether signature gatherers qualify as election personnel and can still show up at shopping centers with petitions, or what types of social distancing methods would be required.

“I’m concerned about complaints we might get about enforcement,” Board chairperson Diane Dillon said.

County Registrar of Voters John Tuteur on Saturday sent an email to the Secretary of State’s office asking Gov. Newsom to prohibit signature gathering during the state shelter-at-home order. That would apply to proposed state and local petition gathering of all kinds.

“Petitions are discretionary and not an essential function,” Tuteur wrote. “Signature gathering is a clear public health threat. Also, our staffs are endangered by receiving and handling contaminated petitions.”

The Board of Supervisors didn’t rule out extending the May 8 deadline to submit petitions to May 22. That would still allow time for the Board to order so-called “9111 reports” that analyze qualifying measures.

But, with an indefinite state shelter-at-home order in place, it’s unclear if an extra two weeks would make a difference.

Editor’s Note: Because of the health implications of the COVID-19 virus, this article is being made available free to all online readers. If you’d like to join us in supporting the mission of local journalism, please visit

You can reach Barry Eberling at 256-2253 or

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Napa County Reporter

Barry Eberling covers Napa County government, transportation, the environment and general assignments. He has worked for the Napa Valley Register since fall 2014 and previously worked 27 years for the Daily Republic of Fairfield.

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