Pacific Union College Wins Local Election Battle about Land Development
by AT News Team
When the official vote was finally released November 27 in Napa County (California) the initiative was defeated that would have restricted land development on property owned by Pacific Union College (PUC). Earlier there was confusion when conflicting reports were circulated and a complete count had not been finished in any of the 167 precincts. The college is affiliated with the Seventh-day Adventist Church.
Earlier in the week Adventist Today talked to the staff of John Tuteur, chief of the election division for the county. The count was delayed due to the overwhelming number of mail-in ballots. In the end, more than 70 percent of the registered voters in this election mailed in their ballots and less than 10 percent went to the polls on election day.
A local group calling itself Save Rural Angwin used the initiative process in the state to seek a law that would have imposed zoning restrictions to keep the college from developing empty land connected to the campus. Officially labeled “Measure U,” legal counsel for the county told the Board of Supervisors that it was likely that at least parts of the measure might not be valid and would end up in the courts.
The measure was opposed in an editorial by the Napa Valley Register which called it “an extreme, precedent-setting solution in search of an unrealized problem.” The editors met with representatives of the neighborhood group and local residents who were against the measure. Save Rural Angwin is afraid that if additional housing is built near the campus it will overwhelm the infrastructure in the small community and change its “bucolic charm,” even though there is no such project being proposed and the college says it has no such plans.
The Green Party supported the measure and well-known entertainers were prevailed upon to make statements in support of it. “The real issue is property rights,” Maria Vance, an Angwin resident, told ballotpedia.org. The measure “would wrest control of its land from the college, a clear violation of property rights as we know them in America.” She saw the measure as “simply the attempt of a few Angwin citizens to prevent their ever having new neighbors. These people have acquired their … homes … but they don’t want others to have the same right.”
The Napa Valley Register pointed to the college’s failure to develop good community relations over the years as the root of the conflict. “It is the institution’s secretive approach to the sale of some of its parcels that spurred such drastic ballot action from its neighbors,” the editorial stated. Although the newspaper urged voters to reject the measure, it said “neither side is without fault. PUC needs to be more open [and] Save Rural Angwin needs to step back from its autocratic solution and try to re-establish productive dialogue with the college.”
In the end, over 60 percent of the voters in Napa County rejected the measure. “I think it is clear that property rights are uppermost in the minds of people,” a local resident told Adventist Today. “No one wants a situation where your neighbors can tell you what you must do with your land.”
“Some people were premature in jumping to the conclusion that PUC would lose this vote,” an alum told Adventist Today. “The campus leadership seems to have done an effective job of connecting with their neighbors and making a good case. It remains to be seen what will happen next. I don’t think the opposition is going away.”