Buying elections in Napa Valley’s 4th district
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George Caloyannidis | Feb 12, 2020

I just sent a $2,000 check to Amber Manfree who is running against the establishment incumbent Alfredo Pedroza in Supervisor District 4. It's a drop in the bucket.

By now, every citizen in this country is aware that elections are being bought. Almost impossible to reverse this corrupt culture at the national level, perhaps it is at the local levels. How inspiring if that place were the Napa Valley.

Consider that citizens time and time again have stood no chance in opposing wineries in places where they impair the convenience, even safety of the locals, or the dozens which have their use permits adjusted to fit their violations just for the asking, increasing their visitors and events or becoming veritable restaurants with commercial kitchens causing ones in the cities to close.

All the while the impacts of these establishments have been certified as mitigated to “less than significant” without standards to measure them against, year after year, project after project piled on top of one another. The ordinary citizens in this county who go to work every day have been trusting our government to indeed have all impacts mitigated. Until one day, they wake up and what took them 20 minutes to go to work, takes now 40. Mitigated?

The jobs this kind of growth creates -- vineyard and hospitality workers - are the lowest paying ones. They invite commuters who, in turn, require affordable housing and let’s be honest, several thousand units of them to make an appreciable dent.

But more housing units put a strain in our resources such as water and to our infrastructure such as water, sewer, electrical and gas delivery networks and diminish its useful life.

Our supervisors are well-educated people who ought to know what’s going on. They live where we live, they know that their policies are inviting more and more low paying jobs, they know that wineries in remote areas with accessibility problems are the wrong places for them, they know that their economy model is destroying our common quality of life and yet, they continue the course. They even instituted a “streamlining” winery approval process which excludes public testimony, designed to sideline the considerable brain power of citizens in this county as a nuisance.

They have also distanced themselves from project approvals by leaving it up to their hand-picked, unelected Planning Commissioners. They hear about them only on appeal which is an expensive process for ordinary citizens. Non-responsive government invites expensive lawsuits as the county well knows.

Amber Manfree is a Ph.D scientist whose campaign has collected fewer than $30,000. Her opponent, Mr. Pedroza, has about $250,000, 95% of which come from the hospitality and winery businesses (amounts and percentages change daily). Five donors alone have contributed over $110,000. Law firms hoping for positive rulings for projects they represent, and like sold ambassadorships, his Planning Commissioner’s firm are among his contributors. It is hard to disassociate this culture with the growth model the county keeps promoting. And bit by bit, the Napa Valley is being destroyed. From within.

I read a few letters in support of Mr. Pedroza. They thank him for helping them through their home permitting process after the 2017 fire. Such help shouldn’t be needed. Clients whose home I designed only 18 years ago had to wait eight weeks to get their permit, even two weeks just to get a nailing inspection. Roadblocks, rather than streamlining where streamlining ought to have been for the fire victims. Approved plans are still not kept on record at the county when people lose them in a fire as was in this case. All under Mr. Pedroza’s watch.

And when it came to support his district’s constituency in their fight to disallow helicopter landings at a private home in their neighborhood, he never as much lifted his finger to support them claiming conflict of interest. But when it came to Measure D, which disallowed helicopter landings at residences in general, he continued to remain silent even though he voted for the county to adopt a single interest measure saving it the expense of going to the voters.

Ms. Manfree’ s primary platform states: “Putting locals first.”

It is about time someone running for supervisor committed to that. This does not mean she is taking aim at the hospitality and wine industries. What it means is balance - a highly complex undertaking at this point - in the way growth in general is being envisioned and managed considering that ordinary people also live here but striped of their balancing power. It means that cumulative impacts of projects will no longer be pushed under the rug, it means searching for sorely needed ways to diversify our economy and it means that no one will have bought her vote.

In this endeavor, her science-driven analytical expertise will add a valuable dimension hereto lacking on the board.

NVR version 2/11/20: Buying elections in Napa Valley’s 4th district

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