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Tuteur rejects 'Water, Forest and Oak Woodland Protection' initiative

John Tuteur, Napa County registrar of voters, has rejected an initiative designed to protect watersheds in Napa County, because it does not meet the requirements of state law.

“Unfortunately, county counsel has found the petition does not meet the requirements of state law, so as the (county’s) elections official, it is my duty to reject the petition on that ground,” Tuteur said.

“I rejected it today at noon,” Tuteur said Thursday evening. “The proponents have the opportunity to ask a judge to overturn that rejection and that is mentioned in my message to them.”

The rejection was based on what Tuteur calls “a very technical issue.” The text of the initiative cites other documents and “county counsel believes those documents had to be included with the petition, and they weren’t.”

On Friday afternoon, Angwin’s Mike Hackett, a spokesman for the Water, Forest and Oak Woodland Protection Initiative, said Napa County officials illegally blocked the initiative from the ballot, after certifying that it had enough signatures to qualify on Monday.

“To say the least, we are shocked by this reversal of opinion,” he said. “County counsel had six weeks to review the initiative, and initially approved it without any reservations.”

Tuteur said proponents turned in the petition with its 6,300 signatures on May 11. He added that he began checking the signatures and also forwarded the initiative petition to county counsel. On Tuesday, after Tuteur certified the petition – meaning the petition had enough valid signatures — county counsel found the problem with it.

Attorneys with Shute, Mihaly & Weinberger, LLP, the law firm that wrote the initiative, plan to file suit on behalf of the Water, Forest and Oak Woodland Protection Committee next week, Hackett said. The same firm drafted and successfully defended Napa County’s Measure J through the appeals process, all the way to the California Supreme Court.

Robert “Perl” Perlmutter, attorney with Shute, Hihaly & Weinberger, said, “We believe that county counsel’s opinion is dead wrong and that the county acted illegally. In our experience, the county’s arguments are those that are typically made by special interest industry groups opposing land use measures and that the courts have rejected.”

The proponents turned in 6,300 signatures, needing only 3,791 valid signatures.

Proponents argue that Napa County suffers from insufficient setbacks, called water quality buffer zones, along its creeks and other waterways. The initiative is aimed at keeping Napa County’s drinking water clear and abundant by protecting streams and creeks on hillsides and mandates protections for oak woodlands.

Tuteur said the only way the initiative will be on the Nov. 8 ballot is if a judge overturns his ruling, otherwise, proponents will have to start the whole process over.

The measure is opposed by Napa Valley Grapegrowers, Napa County Farm Bureau, Napa Valley Vintners and Winegrowers of Napa County.

No-kill animal shelter

Tuteur has certified the signatures for a second initiative petition dealing with the no-kill animal shelter. “It will be at the board of supervisors (meeting) on June 14,” he said Thursday evening.

On Tuesday, the board can adopt the ordinance at its June 21 meeting, can put it directly on the Nov. 8 ballot for a vote or it can ask for a “9111 report,” which Tuteur said “looks at the initiative and its possible impacts.”

If the board requests that report, it needs to be completed within 30 days, so it could come back to the supervisors by its July 12 meeting, which he said is “plenty of time to be put on the November ballot.”

The initiative measure called “Yes on Reducing Euthanasia at Napa County Animal Shelter” would modify the Napa County Code in eight ways. According to the petition, “The purpose and intent of this measure is to improve the quality of life for dogs, cats and rabbits and avoid their unnecessary destruction by improving the live release rate for the Napa County Animal Shelter to at least 90 percent.”

Its proponents are Monica Stevens, founder of Jameson Animal Rescue Ranch (JARR) and Pam Ingalls, board president of Wine Country Animal Lovers (WCAL).

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St. Helena Star Editor

David Stoneberg is the editor of the St. Helena Star, an award-winning weekly newspaper. Prior to joining the Star in 2006, he worked for the Lake County Record-Bee, the Clear Lake Observer American, the Middletown Times Star and The Weekly Calistogan.

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