It is common knowledge that “All is fair in love and war,” but obviously “politics” has found its way into that phrase as well.

Hard to believe that over a year has passed since the joint efforts of Napa County citizens and the Napa Valley Vintners (NVV) crafted the language and rules that would formulate Measure C that appeared on last June’s ballot. While the NVV Board of Directors is to be commended for initiating this process of collaboration, we recall the backlash of a few NVV members that caused their board to withdraw from the very document they and their attorneys helped to create.

The prospect of a life-saving ordinance akin to the boldness of the Ag Preserve of 50 years ago became a lightning rod of controversy for the NVV, Napa County Farm Bureau, Napa Valley Grape Growers, and Winegrowers of Napa County — in spite of experience with failed Erosion Control Plans mandated by the County of Napa (Del Dotto and Yount Mill Road to wit); the degradation of our Napa River by the buildup of silt from runoff of Ag Watershed hillsides denuded of forest and converted to vines; as well as loss of capacity to our reservoirs.

Needless to say, the battle was on – David and Goliath a la Napa County. Those opposed to Measure C pledged to spend upwards of $1,000,000 to defeat it, and in the end the actual expenditures were No on Measure C $824,179 or $46 per vote and Yes on Measure C $361,818, or $21 per vote. In spite of the lopsided spending against Measure C , the No votes were barely 600 votes greater than the Yes votes out of the 35,707 total votes cast in the election.

Early in the campaign a Napa County grape farmer, Yeoryios Apallas, filed suit against the county of Napa Registrar of Voters in Superior Court for removal of false and misleading statements in the proposed Voter’s Pamphlet as furnished by the No on Measure C committee and its above financiers. These blatant falsehoods/untruths/lies were:

1) Measure C will outlaw farming in the Ag Watershed.

2) Measure C will ... open the door to event centers … and increase traffic on our already congested roads and Highway 29.

3) Restrictions from Measure C will prevent property owners from … adding to one’s home …

4) Please join … Napa County Supervisors and Mayors in Napa County who all oppose Measure C.

The No on C backers agreed to settle the case, removing these false statements from the ballot pamphlet and requiring that the No on Measure C group pay their own attorneys’ fees as well as the $54,000 in attorney’s fees for the petitioner, Yeoryios Apallas.

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Perhaps you will recall that the spin on this settlement by the No on Measure C group claimed that they had won the lawsuit. That claim ended abruptly when a Letter to the Editor pointed out that winners (Yes on C) do not have to pay the loser’s (No on C) attorney fees, in fact it is the other way around.

In spite of this agreement in court, you might recall seeing the No on Measure C signs up and down the valley with some of the same falsehoods/untruths/lies that were removed from the ballot pamphlet. Since the lawsuit only addressed the ballot pamphlet, the No on Measure C group saw no problem using those same outlawed statements in their advertising.

Seeing this, one evening I asked my 13-year-old grandson if he knew the definition of “integrity.” Without hesitating he said, “Grandpa, isn’t that where you do the right thing when no one is watching?” Bingo; I couldn’t have said it more succinctly myself. Presumably then “lack of integrity” is doing the wrong thing when no one is watching. Going further then, what is it called when you do the wrong thing when everyone is watching? Extreme lack of integrity?

Fast-forward to now as the county Board of Supervisors said they wanted to strengthen existing Ag regulations with their proposed Water Quality and Tree Protection Ordinance. Citizen turnout to these public hearings was remarkable with demands for action in favor of the environment and the future of Napa County’s agriculture. And yet, this same group who opposed Measure C was demanding that our Supervisors back off on the real pro-ag recommendations before them.

Congratulations and thank you to some forward-thinking agriculturists, especially the newly formed Growers and Vintners for Responsible Ag, for supporting a science- and fact-based plan.

As we listened to both sides of the issue before us, we considered the question, “Who Do You Trust?” Was it a group with integrity, lack of integrity, or extreme lack of integrity?

While our supervisors purported to be listening to both sides, the result of their unanimous vote was a supposed solution in favor of big money growers and vintners. The originally proposed element of water and forest preservation for agriculture and our citizens turned out to be just one more example of kicking the can down the road, again.

Norm Manzer

St. Helena

Editor's Note: This commentary has been modified to correct the outcome of the court case over the Measure C ballot arguments. The case was settled before trial.

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