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Napa County "No on C" Campaign Sued Over Ballot Argument Mistruths

"Opponents deliberately misstated the facts to try and confuse voters into rejecting this important measure."
by Kerana Todorov
March 27, 2018

Formal arguments against a measure to limit the removal of oak trees from the hillsides of the Napa Valley are misleading and should not be printed in the June election pamphlets, according to a complaint filed in Napa County Superior Court.

A supporter of the Measure C on Monday sued Napa County Registrar of Voters John Tuteur, alleging the arguments opponents filed with the county elections office are false and/or misleading, according to the lawsuit. The complaint seeks a court order to prevent Tuteur from printing these arguments in the June 5 election ballot pamphlet, according to the court filing.

Also named in the lawsuit are five opponents who signed the arguments against Measure C filed with Tuteur’s office, including Belia Ramos, Napa County supervisor.

Wine industry groups, including the Napa County Farm Bureau, the Napa Valley Grapegrowers, the Napa Valley Vintners and the Winegrowers of Napa County oppose the initiative. They cite a legal analysis paid by the county, one that is disputed by the supporters of the initiative, that concluded the proposed measure is “’unlawfully vague and misleading.’’ Opponents have also said repeatedly Measure C, if enacted, will have unintended consequences.

Measure C would limit oak removal after 795 acres of oak woodlands are removed from land in the agricultural watershed district. The measure would create new buffer zones along streams and require that three oak trees be planted for every oak removed. Currently, two oak trees have to replace every lost oak tree.

The plaintiff, Yeoryios C. Apallas, a resident and grower in the Oak Knoll District, disputed statements filed with Tuteur’s office that Measure C, once enacted, “will outlaw future farming in the Ag Watershed;” will open “the door to event centers;” and “will prevent property owners from adding to one’s home.”

It will not open the door to the opening of event centers, increase traffic on Highway 29 or prevent property owners from adding on to their property if Measure passes, Apallas said in his complaint.

“I filed this lawsuit because, in my opinion, this ballot argument clearly crossed a line from persuasion into blatantly misleading Napa County voters,” Apallas said in a written statement. “It’s one thing for Napa County residents to have an honest difference of opinion, but I could not sit by while opponents deliberately misstated the facts to try and confuse voters into rejecting this important measure.”

Measure C is not against agriculture or property rights, Apallas said Tuesday. Another 8,000 acres could still be developed on land zoned Agricultural Watershed if Measure C is enacted, according to an analysis by a UC Davis cartographer, he said.

Apallas also disputed in his lawsuit that all supervisors and mayors in Napa County oppose Measure C.

At least one of these elected officials does not. St. Helena Mayor Alan Galbraith on Tuesday said he does support Measure C to protect the Bell Canyon Reservoir. Bell Canyon is a source of water for St. Helena.

Another mayor, John Dunbar, mayor of the Town of Yountville, said he opposes Measure C. He stressed in an email Tuesday that this was his personal position, not representative of the Town Council as a whole. Chris Canning, mayor of Calistoga, said he opposes Measure C.

Tuteur on Tuesday said his office will do what the court orders. The argument signers, he said in an email, “are the real parties in interest and would defend their argument during the court process.”

“The election official is only responsible for receiving the arguments and has no control over their contents which is why the courts get involved if there is a dispute,” Tuteur said.

A representative for the Napa County Farm Bureau, which has posted a “No on C” sign on its front lawn of its headquarters downtown Napa, said it will consult with an elections attorney.

"While we disagree with the merits of the legal action that has been taken against our ballot argument, we are taking this matter seriously and will be working with an elections attorney to look further into this matter,” Napa County Farm Bureau policy director Ryan Klobas said in a statement Wednesday. “We were made aware of this decision less than 24 hours ago, but are moving quickly to address the issues raised by the petitioner to expeditiously resolve this issue and move forward in our campaign."

A measure similar to Measure C failed to make the November 2016 ballot because of a technicality.

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