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While I have many hopes and expectations that there will be a new emphasis on the sustainability of the ag preserve experiment that the county has been engaged in for the last 50 years, the pressure to facilitate economic growth and continue urbanizing the county is unlikely to recede. I hope that new Board is up to the task of curbing the developers' lust to convert ever more of the county's rural heritage into more profitable use.
Update 12/2/22Despite the small number of people in Napa County it always seems to take a long time for the votes to be counted. Now, almost a month after the polls have closed, the Register has published the results of the races too close to call earlier. (KQED Napa County election results here). Joelle Gallagher and Anne Cottrell were declared winners shortly after the election, but it is good to know now that Don Williams has been elected mayor of Calistoga, Paul Dohring has been elected mayor of St Helena, and the expansion of the AmCan urban-rural line has failed. It has been a sweep for the races that mattered to me, with the candidates and issues winning that are more resistant to the development industry lust that continues to consume the rural character of the county.
10/1/22Partisan politics, of the red and blue variety, barely raises its head in Napa County. The real political division is between development interests, who built or tapped into a thriving agriculture-tourism economy over the last 50 years and who feel that it can be expanded indefinitely, and preservation interests, including members of the wine industry, who see the process as beginning to exceed sustainable limits in urban growth and resource depletion that threaten the continuation of the county's rural legacy. That division plays out in the makup of Napa County's Board of Supervisors. Napa is Napa, and not Santa Clara, because a preservationist majority on the Board has more often prevailed.
But since 2000 there has been a shift from the Ag Preserve agenda, begun in 1968 and concerned with the constraint of urban development to allow agriculture to survive, to a Board majority more receptive to the "growth" concerns of most governments - how to create ever more jobs, housing, infrastructure and the illusive goal of more government revenue.
The two Napa County supervisors retiring after the coming 2022 election, District 3 Supervisor Diane Dillon and District 1 Supervisor Brad Wagenknecht, are the vestiges of the preservation agenda. Un-coincidentally their districts contain the vast bulk of vineyard acreage in the county. From the standpoint of the many people concerned about development pressure in the county, and who have shown up at Planning Commission and BOS meetings over the last 9 years, they have become the main voices weighing urban development against the desire to preserve an economy based on agriculture and the desire of residents to protect the county's rural character. That balance is now seldom the highest consideration in land use decisions with the focus now on tourism and industrial projects and the workforce housing and infrastructure needed for a "growth" economy..
Unfortunately, even with the election of "preservationists" to replace the two supervisors, it will only maintain the status quo, and the level of development now being approved will continue. But if their replacements are "growth" minded supervisors, it will probably usher in the end of the Ag Preserve experiment as the new board aggressively pushes more development as a solution to the traffic, housing and tight-budget problems caused by the Board's previous development decisions and more tourism as a solution to the declining value of wine to a younger generation more interested in "experiences" than the quality of the wine. If there is any hope of regaining a majority that will support the low-growth ideals of the Ag Preserve heritage, these two seats must be retained in the preservationist camp.
The planning commissioners appointed by Sups. Dillon and Wagenknecht, Anne Cottrell and Joelle Gallagher are both running in their respective districts, and both have made herculean efforts at moderating the scale of development proposals before them at the commission. Both have solid administrative experience that will allow them to take on the myriad issues that Supervisors must deal with on a day to day basis. But they have also proven themselves in the trenches as protectors of the land use legacy that makes Napa distinct from other Bay Area counties, and that is the core of Napa's economy, character and identity. Vote for Cottrell in District 3 and Gallagher in district 1 to preserve that committment to agriculture and rural protection for the next 50 years.
After the narrow defeat of Measure C, the 2018 watershed and oak woodland protection initiative, the local Farm Bureau spokesman publicly stated that the Farm Bureau would become the lead voice in matters relating to the grape farming industry and land use decisions. Since then, large sums of donations have come into the Farm Bureau’s coffers, the vast majority of it from the extremely rich who are interested in the continued development on our watershed lands and open space.
The Farm Bureau courted candidates for the November 2022 election, and even went to far as to award like-minded elected officials and even the former CEO of Napa County, Minh Tran, who supported their development agenda.
But look what happened on Election Day. It was a veritable referendum on the unbridled growth and development ambitions of those that believe that all Napa land is theirs to develop without regard to environmental consequences. Well, the citizens of the county spoke with a resounding voice and expressed their concerns about our environment, social inequities, and awareness that our shared natural resources are at stake. The developer candidates were resoundingly defeated.
Some may call this a watershed moment, and perhaps a watershed election. But what has happened is a reawakening of our voters that unbridled development in this world renowned fragile valley, has negative impacts on many levels, from water quality and availability, to erosion of our hillsides, and the loss of our heritage oaks. All to what purpose? The continued enrichment of Napa Valley’s super rich and the wine conglomerates bottom lines? Or is it for the vainglorious and frivolous acquisitions of environmentally sensitive hillside lands for its future degradation? Since the super-rich have no terminal capacity to their voracious gobbling up of our hillsides and watershed lands, we, as citizens, showed that enough is enough! Big money will no longer control the lens through which our county land-use decisions are made. The first priority will now be, as it should have been all along, “Is it doing further harm to our Napa Valley?”
We are especially proud of the residents from St. Helena who had to make a clear choice about the future of St. Helena. Eric Hall was a development conscious man who would have liked to have seen St. Helena boom into a Vail or Carmel kind of place. Paul Dohring on the other hand, was a strong proponent of maintaining St. Helena’s small town charm. Another clear example of a referendum on the future, proved their desire to keep its current character, thank you very much!
We have hope for the first time in a long time. Everyone saw through the money smoke screen and voted with a sharing attitude. We came here to support one another, not to extract more than is one’s fair share. We celebrate as the Green Wave envelopes us in its warmth. For those of us who love Napa and what it has to offer us, to our children, grandchildren and residents of the next millennium, we think Napa is a living space for us all?"not just the land barons in our midst. Our Mother Earth pleads: ”please stop” and we have answered at the polls.
The division between residents trying to maintain the rural, small-town character that has been the hallmark of living in Napa County and a tourism industry trying to exploit that character with ever more venues and visitors is most acute in its up-valley municipalities, St. Helena and Calistoga. As with town councils everywhere, theirs are usually dominated by proponents of the economic growth that tourism brings. But both have been lucky to have the rare candidate come forward representing a commitment to the interests of residents and local businesses over the desires of the tourism industry. Donald Williams, running fo Mayor of Calistoga, is one.
This interview summarizes both his inclusive attitude and his unique commitment to preserving his community:
Interview with Donald Williams, Mayoral Candidate --- October 13, 2022
Q. How long have you lived in Calistoga?
A. I moved here from San Francisco in 1974. After 48 years living in Calistoga and working throughout the valley, I have a pretty fair sense of the history and values and people of our town.
Q. What prompted you to run for council?
A. Five years ago, with many others, I objected to the council’s process for determining water rates. We felt the rates were imposed without due regard for public input. We decided we needed to change the council to better respond to the public. After all, it’s the public that is in charge?"or at least it should be. I was elected, and really?"it’s been an honor to serve our community.
Q. And now you’re a candidate for mayor?
A. Yes. The mayor is one of five council members, each with one vote on any issue. The mayor also conducts council meetings, has input on council agendas, and nominates applicants to various committees. Besides that, at grand openings the mayor wields the ceremonial scissors.
Q. Do you feel equal to that job?
A. Oh yes. I’m handy with tools! Much of my work was in construction, very blue-collar. I think a council is fortunate to have members from a variety of backgrounds. Our council members don’t have to be professional politicians. But they should be well-grounded in local history and values. My tenure on council has been very educational. I’ve learned to navigate city hall, figure out how to help the public get what it wants.
Q. What other work experience do you bring to the job?
A. For 30 years I operated my flooring business. I also taught mathematics for almost 20 years at Napa Valley College. They are very different experiences and interests: construction, education, and now government. They help me see issues through very different lenses. For recreation I go another direction: 19th century novels. Often they talk about life in small towns.
Q. Bringing us back to Calistoga?"you’ve brought up the small town concept before.
A. Yes. But it didn’t originate with me. Our town’s Vision Statement begins, “Calistoga will remain a small, walkable town…” There are dozens of references to its small-town quality throughout our General Plan. When I talk about it, I’m just being respectful of our guiding document. I’m also reflecting the sentiments of many of our residents.
Q. Then you’re anti-growth?
A. A balance is needed, not a one-dimensional view. I avoid drastic heroic measures, such as a total ban on building, or unrestrained development. Artificially stimulated development seems contrary to the spirit of the General Plan. But if projects satisfy zoning and codes, let them proceed. (I supported the Indian Springs expansion for that reason.) If building is mandated by state laws, let it proceed. At the same time, abide by the council’s own guideline?"show a “preference towards smaller alternatives when feasible.” And be mindful of our limits: water, traffic, emergency evacuation.
Q. What are your thoughts about business in Calistoga?
A. I believe in business; that’s a way we take care of each other’s needs. I want businesses in Calistoga to succeed. I want them to make a lot of money. I have 30 years’ experience running my own business in Calistoga. I know what it’s like in the private sector?"to develop a market, manage employees, monitor a budget, provide a service or product, and hope for a profit?"all while dealing with external vectors like competition and macro-economic forces.
In support of business and residents, four years ago I called for greater relief from high water bills. During the pandemic I advocated for elimination of the business license tax?"a small tax, but hey, dollars were scarce for businesses then. The hospitality industry in particular suffered during the pandemic (as well as during the fires and recession). The city’s budget was in jeopardy. So I developed a plan for diversifying our local economy. The council agreed and now offers funding to Calistogans who provide a service or product not otherwise readily available locally. I also wanted our council to remind the county to enforce its food ordinance at wineries, to protect Calistoga’s and other cities’ restaurants.
But I opposed spending money to market Calistoga, because it’s not prudent to spend money where it won’t make a difference. My analysis of data for the last decade showed no correlation between marketing expenditures and tourist tax revenue. External forces were the bigger factor in tax revenue.
Q. Did the council agree with you?
A. They didn’t. But the discussion was respectful. They heard a credible alternative point of view. And it made a difference. The new marketing contract links payment to performance, meaning, if tax revenue declines, so does the city’s payment to the marketing firm.
Q. You dissented from the council sometimes.
A. In the last four years there were maybe a score of dissenting votes?"mostly mine, but still only about 3% of the time. However, every dissent represented some of the public. Each dissent gave hope to residents who might have felt unheard or unacknowledged. Not everyone in town thinks the same; why should anyone expect the council to always vote the same? Different ideas are a measure of true diversity, and that stimulates new ideas.
Q. Can you work with a council with diverse perspectives?
A. Certainly. I’m grateful for the service of every council member. Their ideas are important. Respectful, open, fair dialogue benefits our community. I look forward to that.
Q. What would you like the council to work on in the future?
A. The fairgrounds. It’s an integral part of Calistoga. The public wants it restored to public use and so do I. Second, as I go door-to-door to voters’ residences, I hear about water bills. Some trade-offs in the budget may be needed to respond to that issue.
Promoting economic diversity is also important. Not that it’ll replace tourism, but it could be a good backup. And I agree with a Chamber report that public art is important and should be
Maybe most important of all is engaging the public with the council. The council can’t very well represent residents if it doesn’t know what they want. To be good leaders we need to be good listeners.
During this campaign season, Beth Nelson has been following up on her tenacious pursuit of Sup. Alfredo Pedroza's questionable self-dealing over Walt Ranch with a breakdown of the money behind the 2022 Napa election. She has provided financial analysis and 460 funding documents for every candidate in the 2022 campaign here (view the menu):
Napa County politics has always centered around the conflict between preservationists and developers. The Napa County Farm Bureau, formerly a bastion of agricultural protection and now promoter of tourism and real estate development in the name of protecting agriculture, recently cast the preservationists as a "small vocal minority". Every political movement has stalwarts leading the charge, but some are easier to see than others. We know where the passion of preservationists come from: they wear their hearts on their sleeves. When it comes to the passion of developers you need to follow the money. The money shows that a small wealthy minority is in fact bankrolling candidates who they know will enable their development plans, and napacountycash.com shows who they are.
It appears that Anne Cottrell and Joelle Gallagher have substantial leads in their respective districts, which is good news for the preservationist faction of the county. It still remains to be seen if either reaches the 50% needed to avoid a runoff in November.
In each election we get an accounting of the power of Napa's wine oligarchy and the weight of their patronage in Napa county politics. The patronage seems to be spreading into elected office beyond the Supervisor's chambers. It is also interesting that Sup. Pedroza, the prime conduit for development interests in the county since taking over Bill Dodd's seat 8 years ago, is raking in substantial campaign contributions two years away from his next run for political office, whatever office that might be.
Partisan politics, of the red and blue variety, barely raises its head in Napa County. The real political division is between development interests, who built or tapped into a thriving agriculture-tourism economy over the last 50 years and who feel that the process can be expanded indefinitely, and preservation interests, including members of the wine industry, who see the process as beginning to exceed sustainable limits in urban growth and resource depletion that threatens the continuation of the county's rural legacy.
In 2016, the loss by Mark Luce to Ryan Gregory for District 2 Supervisor created a majority on the Napa County Board of Supervisors that marked a shift from the Ag Preserve agenda that began in 1968, concerned with the constraint of urban development to allow agriculture to survive, to a board majority more receptive to the "growth" concerns of most governments - how to create ever more jobs, housing, infrastructure and the mirage of more government revenue. (The movement toward an urban growth agenda in Napa County took off with the election of of Bill Dodd in 2000, replacing preservationist Kathryn Winter.)
The two Napa County supervisors retiring after the coming 2022 election, District 3 Supervisor Diane Dillon and District 1 Supervisor Brad Wagenknecht, are the vestiges of the preservation agenda. Un-coincidentally their districts contain the vast bulk of vineyard acreage in the county. From the standpoint of the many people concerned about development pressure in the county, and who have shown up at Planning Commission and BOS meetings over the last 7 years, they have become the main voices weighing development decisions against the desire to preserve an economy based on agriculture. That concern is now seldom the highest consideration in board decisions.
Unfortunately, even with the election of "preservationists" to replace the two supervisors, it will only maintain the status quo, and the level of development now being approved will continue. But if their replacements are "growth" minded supervisors, it will probably usher in the end of the Ag Preserve experiment as the new board aggressively pushes more development as a solution to the traffic, housing and tight-budget problems caused by the Board's previous development decisions and more tourism as a solution to the declining value of wine to a younger generation more interested in winery experiences than the wine itself. If there is any hope of regaining a majority that will support the low-growth ideals of the Ag Preserve heritage, these two seats must be retained in the preservationist camp.
The planning commissioners appointed by Sups. Dillon and Wagenknecht, Anne Cottrell and Joelle Gallagher are both running in their respective districts, and both have made herculean efforts at moderating the scale of development proposals before them at the commission. But tourism, real estate and construction interests are now dominant forces in the county, as well as a wine industry that continues to embrace ever increasing tourism as its salvation, and the battle will be hard fought and costly.
A Draft Map is being shown on the redistricting calendar for Nov 16: Draft Map (districtr format) Draft Map (pdf format)
(The Draft Map is good in that it allocates more vineyard land to District 2, and the disection of Napa City seems more straightforward than before.)