Update 7/1/16: Alfredo Pedroza was elected Supervisor of District 4 with 56% of the vote. There will be a runoff in November between Mark Luce and the developers' candidate, Ryan Gregory. The Woodland Protection Initiative received more than enough signatures to place it on the ballot in November, but was voided on a technicality by the County Council and that decision is now being appealed by the sponsors of the initiative.
On the day after the 2016 election I want to rant about the further shift of the Board of Supervisors into the developers' pocket and to rave about the consistent sanity of the voters of St Helena in confronting tourism development, but the election of an egotistical bully, liar, misogynist, xenophobe, racist, autocrat, con-man (and building developer) as President of the United States leaves all other concerns quite incidental and subordinate. Even barring apocalypse (a nuclear bomb in response to some international slight, say), the potential future of every institution that separates first world democracies from third world autocracies is now up for grabs. The realization that almost half of the American electorate has placed their anger, hopes and fears in the hands of a sociopathic snake-oil salesman - in the 21st century - leaves one at a loss for words.
As a supporter of development projects in the south county and of the expansion of the tourism industry, Sup. Luce may not seem like the perfect candidate for those interested in the preservation of Napa's open space and natural resources. All of this development has led to traffic congestion, lack of affordable housing, loss of local businesses, increased taxes for infrastructure, building projects in the vineyards and threats to the water supply and natural beauty of the county.
But he is being challenged in this election precisely because he had the courage to recognize that unlimited development may no longer be sustainable if the goal is to maintain a county devoted to agriculture and a rural environment (more here). Developers see him as going soft on development, and have drafted their own candidate In opposition, one that brazenly proposes hilltop houses on his campaign poster.
Being soft on development is exactly what we need if the rural Napa that we know and treasure is to survive, because developers have very different plans for our future. Sup. Luce has shown at least a spark of independence from the developer lobby, a rare and valuable asset in the road ahead. For district 2 voters (and all us other Napans) who like where they live, the choice is clear.
At each public governmental meeting Geoff Ellsworth gets up to defend the interests of the county's residents and restate the reality that city and county officials don't acknowledge with each new project they approve: the rural, small-town character that makes Napa County a special place for residents and visitors alike is being urbanized into extinction through their actions, one "less-than-significant" project at a time.
Over the last three years he has shown the courage and the stamina needed to represent residents' interests against the tourism, real estate, and construction industries and their government promoters pushing a development agenda in St. Helena and the county. That agenda has already led to traffic congestion, the loss of affordible housing and local businesses, the commercialization of residential neighborhoods, increased bond and tax requests for infrastructure upgrades, the deforestation of hillsides and increased pressure on water resources. Many projects have already been approved but their impacts not yet been realized. Many more projects will be proposed in the coming years. Residents need an elected voice to counter the onslaught of urban development threatening the character of their communities. Geoff Ellsworth will be that voice.
Thank you for the continued support and/or dialogue in this City Council race.
With the election less than a week away it's important to keep pushing forward. Many people still vote at the polling place on Nov. 8th and so it's critical to continue getting the word out until then. I believe a vote for myself and Mary Koberstein will help St. Helena get back on track.
I continue with my messages of strong fiscal oversight, quality of life and water security for our residents, supporting local business and our agricultural heritage, as well as a clean, safe environment.
Below are a few ways you can continue to help. Even if you don't vote in St. Helena your efforts will be important to the outcome.
1. Make sure to vote and continue encouraging others to vote, either by mail
or on Nov. 8 at the polling place at the upvalley campus of Napa Valley College
(off of Pope Street).
2. Call or email friends who vote in St. Helena and remind them of this important election.
4. Yard signs - I still have some available and can drop off for anyone wanting to display one.
5.Meet on Saturday, Nov. 5 at Lyman Park at 11 am. We can gather here and then split up to walk neighborhoods for a few hours.
6. A modest campaign donation can be made to help offset costs. Most people are donating between $25 and $100, I've set the maximum at $250. Donations can be sent to Geoff Ellsworth for City Council at PO Box 854 St. Helena, Ca. 94574
Please feel free to email a link to this post by clicking the "Share" link at the top of the post
Best, Geoff Ellsworth
As you may be aware, I've decided to run for City Council in St. Helena.
This is a challenging time for St. Helena and Napa County. We are facing serious issues regarding growth, water, quality of life and fiscal management.
For the past three years, I have attended as many St. Helena City Council and Planning Commission and Napa County meetings as possible. I wanted to fully grasp what is going on and as a result I believe I understand what is needed to move St. Helena forward to a strong and balanced future.
I am hoping to have your support in the upcoming election.
If elected my main focuses will be:
- Fiscal oversight - making sure measures are in place so we don't have a repeat of the financial missteps of recent years.
- Quality of life for residents and support for local businesses.
- Water security for our community - both availability and quality.
- Protection of the environment we all share.
- Interaction with the other municipalities in Napa Valley and with Napa County offices to work towards better communication and working relationships to meet all of our common goals.
- Truly listening to our community to further understand concerns.
The election is Tuesday Nov.8 and mail-in election ballots go out this coming Monday October 10th.
Often people don't return these until the last week or day and so it's very important to continue connecting with voters and bringing awareness over the next month.
These are some ways you can help:
- Walking neighborhoods door to door with campaign flyers
- Calling friends and contacts to discuss the upcoming local election
- Hosting a gathering at a home or public space
- A modest donation to defray campaign costs
- Putting up a yard sign
- Forwarding on this email
I am also available to meet with people separately to discuss concerns and can bring signs and brochures.
I will send a further email announcing upcoming speaking engagements and hope to hear from you as things go.
good ol' boys of the fraternal order of plaid shirts
Napa history has always played out in the flux of development and preservation interests embodied by the Board of Supervisors. Napa is Napa because the preservationists have more often carried the day in board decisions. Unfortunately, like our nation itself, Napa is in a period dominated by financial rather than community interest. The prospects in the upcoming supervisors race are grim for those wishing to preserve the rural character that still exists in Napa today. (District 2 candidate Ryan Gregory, a civil engineering executive, boldly shows houses on the hilltops of his campaign poster!)
In my District 4, appointed incumbent Alfredo Pedroza is running against two thoroughly preservation-minded candidates, Diane Shepp and Chris Malan. Mr. Pedroza is a personable, poised and thoughtful politician. Were he to make a realistic commitment to curbing the development forces that now threaten the county's rural character, rather than embracing them, he would be an admirable champion.
Unfortunately his campaign donations point elsewhere. Several prominent developers in the county, each with major projects before county tribunals, the Halls, Chuck Wagner, James Syar, the Palmaz Family have all been generous contributors, as has the county's major tourism impresario, Dario Sattui and the principal Napa city developer, George Altimura. On the stump his issues are more housing, transportation and "some more development." The difference between the urban developmnt envisioned by his contributors and the preservation of a rural county envisioned by his opponents is (in the word of the NVR editorial board) stark indeed. Supervisor Pedroza has declared his independence from those contributions, but until his decisions prove otherwise skepticism will abound.
Chuck Wagner's Caymus Development Agreement is coming up before the Supervisors on May 24th. He has been a large donor to Supervisor Pedroza's campaign. Will Mr. Pedroza's decision financially benefit Mr. Wagner? The appearance of a conflict of interest is overwhelming - Mr Pedroza should do the right thing and recuse himself. We will see.
[Update 5/24/16: Both the requested use permit and development agreement for Caymus were approved by the supervisors 5-0.]
I am going to vote for Diane Shepp for supervisor on Election Day, and here's why.
Diane has been supporting our art and educational communities for many years, and served two terms on our grand jury. What is important now is that she is thoughtful about future of our neighborhoods , and that she is one tough lady when it involves protecting our water supplies and our agriculture/open spaces.
Unlike some candidates, Diane Shepp doesn't accept thousands of dollars from a wealthy helicopter owner, nor is she afraid of a big landowner/donor who plans to remove 24,000 oak trees, to replace them with vineyards, a water system and new roads.
These 35 parcels are at the top of the watershed that feeds the Napa City drinking water reservoir, and also feeds a large swath of the Coombsville MST. The city of Napa is concerned that heavy rains will overtake the runoff berms and send pesticides and mud into the reservoir.
These 35 parcels will also be developable as a large housing subdivision.
Diane is courageously fighting the size of the Syar mine expansion, because there is no measurement of the local life-threatening silicates blowing onto nearby homes and Skyline Park. (There are not even plans to measure these deadly particles during or after the expansion!) Diane Shepp supports local industries, but believes that health is most important.
Wine sales at the wineries are essential for success. But what if the 450 wineries have events that draw hundreds of visitors several times a year? Our local roads, even Silverado Trail, are maintained by local dollars, and are threatened by heavy congestion. Diane Shepp believes we should measure the cumulative effects on our health and our taxes before approvals.
Diane is the only candidate who is calling our attention to Napa's high cancer rate. Are we causing this ourselves?
These positions may not be popular with the other candidates right now, but Diane Shepp is fighting for our future. Speak up, and vote for Diane Shepp.
I haven't seen any reporting on this event in the Napa Valley Register, so I thought I'd share a couple of my takeaways from Alfredo Pedroza's town fall meeting at Vichy Elementary on Feb. 10.
The meeting was well-attended, overwhelmingly so by opponents of the proposed Palmaz heliport, including myself. They were quite vociferous. To his credit, Mr. Pedroza remained tolerant, cool and calm, ever the politician. He endeavored to cover a variety of subjects concerning the county and its citizenry, and did so despite frequent interruptions. His main response mantra for the evening was, "I hear you."
Notably, there was one gentleman who repeatedly interjected himself into the dialogue to defend and/or clarify Pedroza's position as a "sitting supervisor," This spokesperson's condescending manner, being counter to Mr. Pedroza's more folksy manner, left me wondering whose town meeting it really was. Although he was not introduced, I learned that he was Jim Jones, local attorney and former Napa City Councilman.
Of particular concern to me is the list of Pedroza's campaign donors, information easily accessible at the County Clerk-Recorder's Office. While it's perfectly understandable that a majority of Pedroza's donors represent the wine and tourism industries, my focus was on environmental issues he pointedly did not address. So, I asked him the following question:
"We all know that money is the mother's milk of politics, and according to documents filed by you with the California Fair Political Practices Commission, in 2015, you received almost $20,000 from Hall (Walt Ranch), Syar (expansion) and the Palmazs - all entities that have environmentally-sensitive projects pending with the County. If they come before you to vote on, are you prepared to recuse yourself?"
Pedroza's partial answer was basically that he was very grateful to all his donors, and he would never consider returning any money, as he saw no conflict of interest. Before he directly answered the question, he handed the microphone to Mr. Jones, who stated, "that's not a legal issue, but a moral one." Pedroza then moved on to other questions without giving a definitive answer. Maybe.
On second thought, perhaps that response was the answer.
The purpose of this site has been to advocate for an end to the continuing urban development of Napa County in the belief that all development projects threaten, in the words of the Napa County General Plan vision statement, the "agricultural lands and rural character that we treasure" here.
The heavy-hitter donor list of Sup. Pedroza's campaign is a rogue's gallery of the individuals planning to profit off further development. Several have projects currently in the planning pipeline that will eventually have to be approved by the Supes. Though it seems a conflict of interest, it is hardly unusual that people with large business interests would finance the campaigns of politicians that will decide the fate of their future projects. Still, we keep hoping for some level of integrity in governmental service.
Mr. Pedroza, not yet 30, is already a polished and personable politician who will, no doubt, follow in the footsteps of his predecessor in seeking good faith compromises with development opponents that allow the development to go forward. But the magnitude of his contributions states the reality. He is the developer's candidate, and we must expect that the rate of development that has brought traffic congestion, affordable housing/local business loss, deforestation and resource depletion, and a rural landscape now littered with building projects is unlikely to be lessened under his supervision. The status-quo urbanization will continue and the rural character that we treasure will, in time, be gone. He will have numerous opportunities in the coming months to prove this assessment wrong and I very much hope he does so.
Supervisor Pedroza has laid out a couple of planks to his campaign platform. They are in line with ideas promoted by the Napa Valley Vintners at the conclusion of APAC and since, namely that the problems confronting the county and generating the ire of residents are traffic and lack of affordable housing. Some, of course, might see these as merely symptoms of the continuous expansion of the tourism industry and non-napa-wine industry that bring ever more jobs and more traffic and the need for more affordable housing.
His proposal for a shuttle bus system, both for tourists and workers, perhaps from large parking structures at the airport, is not an unreasonable attempt to reduce traffic. As with any public transit system paying for it would be difficult, but compared to the cost of widening highways (an approach he appropriately renounces) it might pencil out. A tram running on the wine train tracks as far as the airport should also be considered.
The concept of building affordable housing is a little more difficult to imagine, given the years spent trying to find sites before the county grasped at the Napa Pipe proposal. The cost of the 190 units of affordable housing at Napa Pipe was 750 market rate units, 200,000 sf of commercial industrial space, a hotel, elderly center and a Costco. More low paid workers will be needed by the project than can be accommodated in the affordable housing created leaving the county in worse housing shape than had the project not been built. The infrastructure impacts of the project (mostly unfunded) will be enormous, and it is a guarantee that traffic jams will only increase.
New affordable housing projects should be pursued on infill lots in the cities subsidized with mitigation fees paid by tourism and industrial developments, but let's recognize that such approaches are difficult to realize and will not even fill the needs of the new workers needed, let alone alleviate current shortages.
The more logical approach to affordable housing would be to try to stop the hemorrhaging of housing units used for short term rentals. Perhaps hundreds of housing units in the county might become a bit more affordable absent the profits to be made from airbnb. The strategies that cities and the county might use to to make existing housing affordable deserve at least as much effort to find a solution as the grueling process of trying to develop new affordable housing. After pursuing the non-profit new housing approach, Our Town St Helena is now pursuing the subsidization of existing housing.
But neither the expansion of the transportation system or the creation of affordable housing will do anything to solve those problems as long as development projects proceed at their current rate. Developers have shown a consistent ability to generate jobs and visitor experiences in Napa faster than any mitigations can possibly cope with. Let's remember that 120 new or expanded wineries are in the works representing over a million new tourist slots. Over 3000 market rate housing units are on the way. 2000 hotel rooms. Several million sf of commercial space. These projects will be adding to the existing traffic and need for affordable housing long before any of our ideas on traffic or affordable housing are realized.
Job creation in most places is a good thing. But a place where the object is to maintain an agricultural economy, in which a "sustainable rural community" is enshrined in the vision statement of its general plan, an ever increasing amount of development necessary for an ever increasing workforce and tourist population will eventually fill up the fields. Yes, traffic and affordable housing should be worked on. But until the rate of new development is halted, it is a fool's errand.
Community Leader Diane Shepp throws her hat into the Supervisor Race
Community leader and former teacher Diane Shepp has declared her candidacy for the District 4, Napa County Supervisor seat in the upcoming June 2016 primary election.
Community development and education are the primary focus' of Shepp's professional career as a teacher (Vichy Elementary), nonprofit administrator, fund developer, and artist. Shepp, a third generation Californian, was the first and only member in her immediate family to graduate from college. She and her husband Alan have raised two daughters since moving to the Napa Valley in 1984.
When asked why she decided to run for County Supervisor, Shepp replied, "In the past 6-8 years I have witnessed a dramatic change in the Napa Valley and I am disturbed by what has been happening. We moved here for the natural beauty and quality of life of a rural community. The dark quiet skies at night were spectacular. The vineyards and wineries were primarily on the Valley floor. From any given point in the Valley you could be in an oak woodland in 20 minutes on a bicycle. Traffic was manageable."
Shepp continued, "I have been listening to what the local neighborhood coalition groups are saying about the trucking of Napa City water to support hillside vineyards while local residents are asked to let their lawns go brown. The preservation of our watersheds is critical to the wine industry as well as the protection of agriculture. The cumulative effects of the growth of the hospitality industry is also of concern."
Shepp is concerned about the future of Napa County and believes there are things that can be done, "if we begin now to implement measurers that positively address voters concerns." The primary election is a little less than nine months away. "We have a lot of work to do to up the level of awareness. This may be my first Board of Supervisor race, however it's the first Supervisor race for my opponent as well and the voters will now have a voice in who is chosen to represent them."
The Planning Commission and eventually the County Board of Supervisors will soon have the opportunity to review the recommendations of Agricultural Protection Advisory Committee (APAC). "We must address the quality of life of local residents and neighborhoods. Can the working middle class, the backbone of our country afford to live here? Can locals easily drive to and from their jobs? to the grocery store? to the hospital? Is the current Board of Supervisors considering the health, welfare and safety of local residents equally with the monied investment interests? We will see how they address these concerns."
Shepp served on the Napa County Grand Jury 2007-2008 and as Pro-Tempore of the 2008-2009 Grand Jury; President of the Napa County Chapter of the California Grand Jurors Association (CGJA) 2010-2011 and 2012-15; and is currently the Vice President of the statewide California Grand Jurors' Association. A highlight of her CGJA tenure was in 2013. She was honored as the Angelo Rolando Memorial Award recipient, one of CGJA's most prestigious awards. The award is presented each year to the person who has demonstrated outstanding participation at both the state and county level in support of CGJA's goals and objectives, applied excellent leadership skills, and effectively accomplished goals and projects.
Appointed by the Napa County Board of Supervisors in 2007, to the Napa County Commission for Arts and Culture, Shepp sat as Chair of the Commission 2009-2012. She has held executive positions with the John Muir Festival Center, the Napa County Arts Council, the Solano County Arts Alliance, the University Art Museum Council-University of California, Berkeley, Napa Emergency Women's Services and the Wildlife Rescue Center of Napa County.
Active at the local, state and national levels, Shepp is a founding board member of the Napa Valley Opera House Inc., Ag 4 Youth- Upvalley Ranchers, Napa Vision 2050, Protect Rural Napa and the Soda Canyon/Loma Vista Land Stewards. Shepp also served as a founding board member and Past President of the California Assembly of Local Arts Agencies; Past President of the Volunteer Council of the di Rosa Preserve: Art & Nature; Past President of Vichy Elementary Alternative PTA; served on the original faculty of Leadership Napa; and a former member of the National Assembly of Local Arts Agencies Leadership Committee.
Shepp is a graduate of the University of California, Berkeley, and the Getty Leadership Institute. A charter member of the Golden West Women Flyfishers, Shepp enjoys fly-fishing, and travel when not in her art studio.
The discontent of community groups all across the county at the ongoing development of paradise has begun to shape the calculus of the 2016 election. It is not too soon to begin looking at the candidates and the actions that will be red hot topics in the coming year.
Oct 2nd deadline: Considering placing an initiative on the Nov 2016 ballot? This brief, informal review of the process was received from John Teuter. The main thing, he says, is to consult with a knowledgeable elections attroney before starting the process. The deadline for submitting an initiative to the county registrar of voters is Oct 2nd 2015. The county reviews and titles the initiative by Nov 2nd, 2015. You then have 180 days to collect 5000 signatures.