A Napa County ballot measure that would limit vineyard development in woodlands and along waterways was leading by the slimmest of margins late Tuesday.
The fate of Measure C, widely viewed as a public referendum on whether the wine industry’s expansion should be reined in, was too close to call. Of more than 14,300 votes counted, the measure led by a mere 40 votes.
Thousands of votes remain to be counted, most of which likely will be tallied next week, a county election official said Tuesday night.
The election was the first by the county to be conducted in which all ballots were mailed to voters. If the current turnout mirrors the 2014 gubernatorial primary, then only about half the votes would be counted Tuesday, said Xioneida Ruiz, election service manager. The next major update on vote totals might not be announced until Thursday or Friday, she said.
Even so, leaders on both sides of the election expressed satisfaction at the initial results Tuesday.
“We would love to see us maintain a lead,” said Jim Wilson, a co-chairman for the “Yes” campaign.
Stuart Smith, a Measure C opponent and member of the Napa Valley Grapegrowers, said, “I feel that when we’re this close, we’re doing pretty well.”
While the election essentially centered on water quality and woodland protection, both sides conceded the fate of Measure C would be influenced by the way voters view the wine industry and its impact on their lives.
The results are being watched by activists in Sonoma County, who maintain more should be done to curb the impacts of winery tourism on rural residents.
Measure C would allow up to 795 acres of oak woodlands to be removed around hills and mountains in Napa County, starting the count from September 2017. Trees destroyed by wildfires would not count against the total.
Landowners would need a special permit to cut down such trees beyond that level. New vineyards would not qualify as a reason for the permits to be granted and would face stringent conditions.
The initiative also would establish new standards for buffers near streams, prohibiting the removal of trees within 25 to 150 feet from streams, depending on the wetland area. Dead or dying trees would be provided an exception.
Supporters said Measure C would limit vineyard development on hills and mountains to provide greater protection to watersheds and oak woodlands. They contended that fewer oak trees in the watershed will reduce groundwater levels, lead to more erosion and threaten wildlife.
Opponents contended the initiative is vaguely worded and lacks scientific results to support claims of improving water quality or protecting county watersheds. Some also argued that the best place to decide such issues isn’t with a ballot measure but through laws drafted by the county Board of Supervisors.
Smith, the founder of Smith-Madrone Vineyards & Winery near St. Helena, said opponents knew they had an uphill battle.
“Who doesn’t like oak trees and clean water?” he asked.
Mike Hackett, a “Yes” campaign co-chair, said supporters spent three years developing the law and doing “everything we could” to work for its passage.
“Win or lose,” he said, “I’m filled with pride.”