Voters in Calistoga on Tuesday appeared to reject a ballot measure seeking to raise property taxes in order to pay for the city’s purchase of the Napa County Fairgrounds.

The Calistoga City Council had approved a purchase and sale agreement for the 70-acre property for nearly $16 million last fall, but the deal was contingent on two-thirds of voters approving a special tax to pay for it.

As of unofficial results last updated Tuesday night, the proposed tax on the ballot as Measure E was well short of approval, with nearly 68 percent of voters against it.

The county says that the property — once a hotbed of activity including a speedway, golf course and home to the Napa County Fair — has fallen into disrepair. Parts of the property are still available for some special events, but it is largely inaccessible to the public.

If passed, the tax dollars would go not only to the purchase of the property but for investing in restoring it, possibly with a revitalized golf course and speedway.

Preliminary results for Calistoga Measure E show the measure failing by a 2-to-1 margin as of Tuesday night. (Napa County Elections Department)

The official argument for the tax sent out to voters merely suggests the money would “significantly improve its usefulness” without going into detail. Ultimately, proponents said allowing the sale to happen would keep control of the land in the hands of Calistoga, not the county or private developers.

Negotiations were well underway for the city to purchase roughly half of the property before COVID-19 hit. Then, due to what the county described as “unprecedented financial conditions” associated with the pandemic, the transaction was abandoned in the spring of 2020.

Then, in the fall of 2021, Calistoga asked the county if it wanted to sell it the entire fairgrounds property, including the unused golf course and two residences.

Local business owners Patricia Merchant and Stephen Patel wrote the official opposition to the ballot measure.

“The city has NO public plan for Fairgrounds,” reads the statement that went out to voters. “There is NO guarantee that the city will reopen the golf course or racetrack. In fact, it’s likely that the city’s new property tax increase will be insufficient to cover the cost of maintaining and updating the Fairgrounds — forcing the city to either dip into its General Fund, raise taxes even higher, or sell the land to a developer.”

In the event that the tax measure does not pass, the city of Calistoga has said that the fairgrounds will continue to be county property “that can be left as is” or used in accordance with Calistoga’s zoning regulations as an open space for public use. The county also has the option to sell the property to a private company, the city said.