We didn’t even share the scathing review of Lester Hardy and his past performance as a member of the St. Helena City by former St. Helena Postmaster, Peter Mennen:
“I’m looking at a copy of a letter I wrote to Mayor Otty Hayne in May 1990 decrying the terrible downstream damage being done by irresponsible hillside vineyard development. It reads, in part:
“I am sending a copy of this letter to Council Member Lester Hardy for his special consideration. I supported Mr. Hardy in his effort to become a member of city government. He presented himself as a concerned person and used his affiliation with the 20/20 Ag Lands Initiative to appear concerned with the quality of our rural environment. But he has made statements recently which appear to be completely out of touch with his constituents regarding protecting our fragile hillsides. For example, he was quoted in a recent Napa Register article as basically saying he’d never met a vineyard he didn’t like and that he was against restrictions on vineyard development in the hillside watershed area. I certainly would not have supported Mr. Hardy if I had understood his real views on this vital issue. I do not think he would have been elected if others knew his bias toward watershed destruction.”
“In the 30 years since I wrote that letter, the enormity of damage to our watersheds and the situation of our reservoirs that’s been caused by uncontrolled runoff and eroding topsoil from hillside vineyards during winter storms is painfully obvious. For example, Bell Canyon Reservoir lost a quarter of its capacity awhile back when the Viader family scraped a hillside clean for grapes and a huge chunk of their property collapsed and washed into the canyon that winter. As a result, the city is struggling to find enough water to maintain our quality of life, and I suspect the town’s water shortage problems are even worse than we’ve been told. And now once again Lester Hardy can hardly wait to champion the “rights” of “individuals”: AKA his rich vineyard buddies in the hills, who want him to help get rid of existing environmental restrictions and give them a permanent green light to carry out the worst kind of destructive behavior, and good luck to all the “non-individuals” like you and me down below. His supporters praise Mr. Hardy’s civic involvements and good for him, but from what I can see, they’re nothing but a chameleon’s self-serving camouflage.
“The truth is: I’m fond of skunks and raised three orphaned babies when I was a boy, but let’s be blunt – no matter how many times you dunk a skunk in cologne, it is what it is.”
But now that Lester Hardy has shown his alignment with the “Napa County Farm Bureau Fund to Protect Napa Valley Agriculture,” (the Farm Bureau PAC) by accepting their endorsement and support, we feel duty bound to bring the readers up-to speed on what this might mean for our community going forward.
Make no mistake. This is not the Farm Bureau that “supports actual farmers and helps 4-H kids and Future Farmers of America.” This is a Political Action Committee, doing the bidding, primarily, of two (Yes, “two”) individuals with, what some might consider, significant undue influence in Napa County already, Chuck Wagner and Daryl Sattui.
The Farm Bureau PAC launched in 2019 with monetary contributions in the amount of $60,000:
Of that initial $60,000, $25,000 came from Daryl Sattui and $25,000 came from Caymus Vineyards, owned by Charles Wagner:
Caymus (Chuck Wagner) made an additional, generous, contribution to the PAC of $20,000 in May of 2020:
FYI: V. Sattui Winery also donated $2,500 directly to Peter White’s mayoral campaign and “Charles” Wagner donated $10,000.
So far, the Farm Bureau’s PAC has spent $1,100, each, in support of Lester Hardy, Eric Hall, and Peter White’s campaigns, as well. So while it looks all well and good and people are want to believe that the PAC actually represents our agrarian heritage (which would be a noble cause if that’s what it was really doing), that is not necessarily the case.
On top of that, besides whose interests the Napa County Farm Bureau Fund to “Protect” Napa Valley Agriculture may actually be protecting, it’s worth noting “how” they plan on “protecting” it.
Support of vineyard intrusion in the watershed, deforestation of our hillsides, and ignoring the water crisis? We expected as much from Peter White and Eric Hall. But Lester Hardy? You’ve now shown your true colors, as well.
If you haven’t voted, yet, we certainly hope you will. This may be the most important election in your lifetime, starting at the top of the ticket all the way down to the bottom. In terms of the St. Helena election, we have already made our endorsements very clear:
Geoff Ellsworth for Mayor
Leslie Stanton for City Council
David Knudsen for City Council
But there’s one more item on the ballot we haven’t really talked about yet. Measure G. Krys Smith makes the best case we have seen, yet, in favor of Measure G, a ballot measure we fully endorse. This is reprinted from the St. Helena Star;
The misinformation being spread that a hotel on Adams Street will ‘save” St. Helena is a disgraceful disservice to the people of this city being asked to weigh in on selling our own public land to a private developer.
This [Measure G] is not an anti-hotel opinion. In fact many of us opposed to selling the Adams Street public land to a private developer, are in favor of the Farmstead and Krug hotels on Highway 29. They are both long-time local businesses that have invested in St. Helena for decades, and are on their own land.
“The Adams story has a breadcrumb trail of big money trying to use scare tactics to get our community confused enough to sell off our incredible public assets to a luxury resort chain.”
The Financial Task Force did not recommend selling Adams Street (read the final report on the city website).
All city council meetings to date have had a large majority of residents against selling Adams Street (see all meetings on the city website – go back and count – we did).
Over 500 people recently signed a petition to stop just three people on the city council from having the power to sell Adams Street without public vote.
This information was taken directly from the Task Force Final Reporton the city website: Here’s what it would take to get to the revenue they say an Adams Street Hotel will bring to St. Helena:
Fill 56 rooms at $1,200/night all 365 days (rainy winter months, fire months, Covid, etc.);
Each room must spend $900 every day all 365 days within the resort;
Each room must spend an additional $400 every day for 365 days within St. Helena city limits;
This does not include any money spent outside, at most Napa winery visits like Hall, Freemark Abbey, Duckhorn, Far Niente, Cakebread, etc. and wine purchases, dinner at Press, Auberge, Limos, etc.
The hotel does not pay St. Helena until the full development plan and the full Environmental Impact Report is complete and approved by both the Planning Commission and City Council. That could take years, or they could stall building it like the Four Seasons in Calistoga, and the city would not get paid for the land. Did you know that?
St. Helenans, it’s more important than ever to do the reading and not rely on hearsay – even when the hearsay sounds legitimate. The power spreaders are very effective at altering the truth. After all, they have a lot of money at stake.
“Yes on Measure G puts a hold on hotel development only on Adams Street for only 20 years. With two other local hotel projects on their land, endless devastating fires, COVID and climate change altering our lives, we can wait just 20 years, evaluate the new hotels, and let the next generation weigh into their future too.”
We don’t need to deprive us or them of such valued public open space now. Please vote Yes on Measure G.
“. . . . . look, look, you just tell them and they believe it. That’s it, you just tell them and they believe it. They just do.” — Donald Trump
Eric Hall, candidate for St. Helena city council, and his supporters would have you believe that St. Helena is in a “financial free fall” that only he can prevent. His entire platform seems to rest on this one false premise. (Unless he’s trying to make the voters believe he is an environmentalist . . . . .one who happens to drive a Porsche.)
At the October 28 meeting of the St. Helena City Council, Finance Director April Mitts was able to show that with the careful planning and foresight our current city council showed at the beginning of the Covid crisis, and by reducing staff salaries and maintaining a prudent posture, the city is actually in much better financial shape than they had anticipated (and budgeted for.)
“(It is) absolutely not in “financial freefall,” says Councilmember David Knudsen. “The city has a well-diversified tax base—property, sales, and TOT. . . . .Yes, TOT is underperforming. But property tax is up and sales tax is stable—we’re doing far better than we thought back when Covid first hit.”
Never-the-less, and in spite of three scenarios for long range forecasts presented by the city’s finance director, Eric Hall chose to focus on the one (and distort the findings in the overall report) that fits his narrative and totally ignore the ones that don’t, specifically Scenario 2.
“Based on our current forecast the City is projecting a deficit for the baseline scenario, Scenario 1,” says Mitts. “This scenario accounts for COVID-19 revenue and expense assumptions in FY 20 and FY 21. . . . .The deficit starting in FY 24 is related to several factors including: the return to pre-COVID spending levels in FY 24 and FY 25, the resumption of transfers to civic infrastructure projects in FY 22, and contributions stating in FY 23 for the necessary storm drain repairs.”
“Scenario 2 (page 8 and 9) adds a hotel in FY 25 and modeled Farmstead revenues as presented in the Infrastructure Financing Taskforce final report,” says Mitts.
In this scenario, Mitts included the recently approved Farmstead hotel in the model, which, based on information provided by the City’s Infrastructure Financing Taskforce adds additional property, sales tax, and Transient Occupancy (TOT) tax starting in FY 25.
“Under this scenario there is still a deficit in FY 20 and FY 21 due to COVID, and a deficit in FY 24 (since the hotel was not modeled coming online until the following year); however, Scenario 2 modeling did not show a continuing deficit.”
Given Eric Hall’s convenient but inaccurate portrayal of St. Helena’s financial health (often referred to as “lies by omission”) designed to scare the populace into voting for him, is this someone you really think you can trust with the future of our town? After all, they will need to be able to read a financial report accurately.
Those who have been paying attention to the onslaught of professionally produced, glossy, political campaign fliers showing up in our mailboxes may have noticed the trajectory of Eric Hall’s campaign over the weeks. It started with the premise that “the city’s all screwed up and what we need is ‘smart growth’ to save downtown.” And, because we are such rubes here in St. Helena, we need the input from a newly-arrived Marin real-estate developer to save us from ourselves!
Next Eric Hall tried to paint himself as “an environmentalist” and a “person with deep roots in Napa Valley.” Hall’s roots in St. Helena go no deeper than a few years ago, when he married into the Pestoni family, owners of the Clover Flat Landfill. What’s worth noting is that Hall’s purported “deep roots” go hand-in-hand with claims of being an “environmentalist,” especially since the Pestoni’s Clover Flat Landfill has recently had a number of environmental issues and violations related to it:
“In March 2019, the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board issued the landfill a notice of violation for releasing leachate into a creek. Leachate is water that has extracted solids from other materials; from a landfill, it can contain chemicals and heavy metals. The Napa County Public Health Officer advised the public not to use the water from the creek, or even to touch it . . . . .
“In April 2019, the local government agency that oversees the landfill declared it to be a breach of contract. . . . . .
Hall’s wife, Christy Pestoni, Chief Operating Officer for the Clover Flat Landfill, which sits at the headwaters of the Napa River Watershed, did not want to talk about the violations or safety issues at the landfill for that article. And Eric Hall, hasn’t mentioned it either even though it is a clear and looming threat to our water supply. (He must be hoping the voters will simply take him at his word and not actually check into his background.)
. . . . .where are the endorsements from the people who actually live here, have lived here, raised their children here, and have invested their lives in this community?
And now Hall seems to be back to his “the sky is falling” trope and is attempting to posture himself as an establishment candidate with his endorsements from professional politicians such as State Senator Bill Dodd (District 3), a former Republican who conveniently switched to being a Democrat for the sole purpose of getting elected to the State Assembly (District 4) in 2014. Is that someone you think you can trust?
Eric Hall also brags about receiving an endorsement from Napa County Supervisor Alfredo Pedroza, which should raise a red flag for anyone who cares about the future of St. Helena, Napa Valley, and the Ag Preserve. It’s not difficult to draw a straight line between the people who donate to Pedroza’s campaign fund and major development projects that get passed by the County Board of Supervisors over the protests of the people’s whose lives will be forever impacted and with no regard to the water shortage, affordable housing issues, traffic woes, or the climate crisis.
It’s no wonder that Napa Valley is earning the moniker “DrunkDisneyland.” And if Pedroza and Hall have their way, St. Helena may very well be slated to be its “Main Street” attraction.
Of all the candidates running for St. Helena City Council, Eric Hall seems to be the one least interested in actually listening to the people in the community. And if Peter White should win the mayoral race, our town may well go the way of Yountville, and now Calistoga, with little hope of regaining the agrarian heritage and hometown charm that brought most of us here to begin with.
It would be great to have a city council we thought we could trust. One we could count on to have our best interests at heart. One we didn’t think we had to watch over at every single meeting to make sure they didn’t try to slip one by or make some decision that would have devastating effects on the people who people live here.
So, please don’t forget to vote and to vote for the future of St. Helena, our children, and their children. A vote for Mayor Geoff Ellsworth, David Knudsen, and Leslie Stanton will be just that.
Several weeks ago I was on my way to meet Leslie Stanton for a walk along the river trail when two little girls and their mom came whizzing toward me on their bicycles. As they passed, I heard one of the little girls say to their mom, “Did you see Leslie?” “That was Leslie from the library!”
When I met up with Leslie, just 30 feet or so ahead, I told her what I had heard. She looked back toward the direction the young family had gone and said, “See? Those are the people I want to represent on the City Council.”
After spending 34 years fostering imagination and a love of reading among the young people in our community, Leslie Stanton retired from the public library last June. But she’s not done, yet. She not only continues to volunteer at the library, she also hopes to win a seat on the St. Helena City Council this November.
“I want to continue serving the people of St. Helena,” she says, “and help to make sure it remains a residential town and not over-developed for visitation. I’d also like to see our local-serving businesses prosper, as well.”
Leslie’s family has farmed grapes in St. Helena since the late 1940’s and still does. As a teenager she roamed along the banks of the Napa River (and in the riverbed when it was dry) and helped in her family’s vineyard. She graduated from St. Helena High School in 1972, went off to college to study viticulture at UC Davis, and came back to St. Helena after graduating to raise her family in her hometown.
Through her work at the library, Leslie may very well know this community, from its youngest members to its oldest (and most of the newcomers, as well) and their concerns better than anyone else currently running for a seat on the city council. And when it comes time to make a decision that might impact your life or the community we all love so much, she’ll already have a pretty good idea of what will serve the community best.
St. Helena is going through a period of transition and we need a city council composed of people with integrity who understand the needs of the people who live here and will put the community first. We need people who see St. Helena as more than a troubled cash cow, who see the bigger picture beyond our city’s boundaries, who are well-versed in the issues surrounding water security and equity, and who are willing to actively explore creative solutions on behalf of the residents, rather than simply waiting for “solutions” to drop in their laps, “solutions” which often come with one thought in mind: “How can we make the most money, here?” We need city council members like Leslie Stanton, someone who is smart and a lifelong learner, someone who listens and cares, someone with compassion, integrity, a sense of humor and the institutional memory so often lacking here.
No one is suggesting St. Helena stand still in time. But if we are to continue to move forward and thrive while maintaining the home-town values cherished by old-timers and newcomers alike, and if we want to create a warm and welcoming experience for those who choose to visit, we must not lose sight of the people who already call St. Helena “home” and who cherish it for the unique small town that it is.
And so I urge you to vote for Leslie Stanton, David Knudsen and Mayor Geoff Ellsworth so we have a city council that is in tune with the people who live here, a city council that will listen to our concerns, and one that will make honest, well-informed decisions in the best interest of everyone who lives here and not just the barbarians at the gate.
— Elaine de Man
Don’t just take our word for it. Here’s what a few members of the community have to say:
While serving on the city council, mayoral candidate Peter White was an enthusiastic supporter of the Los Alcobas Resort, which is now closed. (St. Helena Star, March 11, 2015)
While still on the Planning Commission, former mayor Alan Galbraith was also enthusiastic about Los Alcobas and voted in favor of the the original 57-room project and when he was mayor, approved adding an additional 13 rooms. “I think it will greatly benefit the project and greatly benefit the city,” he said. “This is a project where we clearly need to move forward now.” (St. Helena Star, March 11, 2015)
In their rush to strike a resort development deal, White and Galbraith overlooked some of the inherent problems with Las Alcobas, primary lack of adequate parking, which became apparent as soon as it opened in 2017. Council chambers were flooded with irate residents who, among other things, found the curbs in front of their homes now painted red in order to accommodate the increased traffic at an intersection that was already precarious. People who had lived there for years now had no place for them or their guests to park in front of their own homes. Ultimately a deal had to be worked out with a nearby church to accommodate over-flow and employee parking for Los Alcobas. But the curbs are still red. And now, three years after it opened, Los Alcobas has closed with no indication of if and when it will re-open.
Mayoral candidate Peter White’s allegiance to resort developers such as the Los Alcobas team is well established. Back in 2015, Mary Stephenson of Our Town St. Helena, reminded the City Council that the current housing market, increasingly dominated by second-home owners, was making it harder than ever for low- and middle-class workers to live in St. Helena. She suggested that the city required new hotels to build affordable housing instead of just contributing to a housing fund. Councilmember Peter White, however, expressed more concern about increasing the economic burden on hotel developers than on exploring an option that would have favored affordable housing. (St. Helena Star, Oct. 28, 2015) Indeed, the Los Alcobas project eliminated 19 affordable housing units, increased demand for more, and the city got a mere $750,000 for its affordable housing fund as part of the original deal. (St. Helena Star, Feb. 18, 2015) Mary Koberstein was also on the planning commission from 2015 – 2016.
Fast forward to 2020, Galbraith and White are gone, and there is new leadership on the city council with Mayor Geoff Ellsworth that puts the needs of the community ahead of the needs of outsiders riding into town looking to make a buck. The recently approved Farmstead Hotel is a case in point. Among other benefits to the city, the Farmstead project offered much more favorable terms for St. Helena, including $3.2 million in affordable housing fees, with $1 million set aside for Our Town St. Helena to buy the nearby Phelps property and build an affordable housing project. (St. Helena Star, October 14, 2020)
“What was most unique about the Farmstead negotiation,” says Councilmember David Knudsen, who was part of the team that negotiated the deal on behalf of the city, “was the increase in the housing fund contribution to over $3 million, by far the largest for any similar-sized project in upper Napa Valley.” (David Knudsen, incidentally, is currently running for re-election. You might want to check him out.)
And unlike Los Alcobas, no affordable housing units will be lost as a result of this project. This is what happens when you have a mayor and city council members who put the put the needs of the community ahead of the needs of the developer.
In February of 2019, one of the Los Alcobas hotel partners sued the other two partners for $50 million for fraud and breached contract. (Napa Valley Register, Feb. 17, 2019) In mid-September, Los Alcobas left the Marriot Luxury Collection. And now, in late October, Los Alcobas remains closed and sits empty. This is the unfortunate legacy of Peter White’s term on the St. Helena City Council. And now he wants to be our mayor!
Incidentally, the $1.73 million in Transient Occupancy Tax (TOT) from the Los Alcobas project that was touted by Galbraith and White, never materialized. The difference in total Transient Occupancy Tax (TOT) collected by the city in the fiscal year before Los Alcobas opened and the year after was $819,917. Even two years after Los Alcobas opened, the city only collected an additional $1,315,397 in TOT. And, well, we can all see what happened to TOT between July, 2019 and June, 2020. And, with an ongoing pandemic threatening additional shut downs, two massive wildfires in September and October forcing many people in the community to flee for their lives and causing precautionary and mandatory evacuations, major road closures, lingering smoke and dangerous air quality, we should anticipate an even worse showing for TOT in the next fiscal year.
Given the poor outcomes from a resort development project that was championed and approved by Peter White, why on earth would we want to go back to the failed policies and projects he so enthusiastically endorsed when he was vice mayor? If Peter White becomes our new mayor and, heaven forbid, Eric Hall, who appears to be cut from the same cloth, is elected to the city council, we will inevitably fall victim to the rapacious yearnings of even more fly-by-night developers and projects that put money in someone’s pocket but that don’t serve the city or the community well and may even have deleterious impacts.
Mayor Geoff Ellsworth and Councilmember David Knudsen have already shown their commitment to the people and who live here and a willingness to work with developers so that everyone comes out ahead. It would be a shame to take a giant step backward with Peter White sitting in the Mayor’s seat and Eric Hall by his side.
(Please note: All block quotes come from Jim Conaway’s Blog, another great source of inside information and analysis from the man who wrote thebooks and has been closely following developments in Napa since the 1980s.)
We’re not going to change a word, because we couldn’t have said it any better than Vanessa Parr, from St. Helena’s own Gutenberg Transfer Printing & Copy Center on Dowdell Lane in St. Helena.
“Gutenberg Transfer Printing & Copy Center is a small, family-owned business that has been faithfully serving the community of St. Helena for over 25 years. We are one of the businesses in town that truly serves the locals, both individuals and businesses.
During the pandemic and fires it has been this close knit tie with our customers that has helped to weather the storm.
It is because we depend upon the whole community that we try to be apolitical in our business dealings but we do feel the need to speak out in the midst of this election to point out a few of the candidates who have had the forethought to keep the funds that they have raised local.”
“Geoff Ellsworth, Leslie Stanton, Lester Hardy and Dave Knudsen have all thought locally and have literally already acted upon their campaign promises to help local business.”
“After taking a straw poll amongst others either in or adjacent to our profession, we also feel the need to point out those candidates who haven’t gone all out to help local businesses, despite the rhetoric you see in their mail pieces and online. Not one of these candidates has taken a moment to call or email us for so much as a quote, let alone an order.”
“Mary Koberstein has had all of her printing done in Napa. Eric Hall sends his mail pieces to a business in Oakland. Peter White, Sacramento.”
“Wow! If their thoughts about helping St. Helena businesses don’t compel them now, as candidates, to help when they actually have dollars to spend, (during a pandemic when small businesses are being hit the worst!) why should the community think they will fit that into their agenda if they are elected? We need leaders in this town who think and act locally.”
And then there is this, from Kathryn Kenney:
“As a business owner here in St Helena (That Pizza Place) I can attest to this. We’ve had 1 candidate check in on us to see how we’re doing. Just one. Unfortunately, we don’t live in St Helena, so we can’t vote. But if I did, I’d vote for Geoff just based on the fact that he checked in.”
It’s the little things that really count in a small town like St. Helena. Clearly, Mary Koberstein, Peter White, and Eric Hall, busy schmoozing with the jewelers on Main Street, don’t get it. And they shouldn’t get your vote.
Many people found Mary Koberstein’s campaign email titled “Community,” sent October 8, 2020, both insensitive and somewhat offensive. Just as members of the community started returning back to their homes after the Glass Fire, some of whom may have had to flee for their lives with no time to pack anything at all; some who spent a week or more in uncertain evacuation with very few options as to where to go; and many who returned to find their homes, their businesses, their life’s work, and their memories reduced to a pile of ash, they were treated to Mary’s account of her “ordeal:”
“Like many St. Helenans, our family was forced to leave our home in a hurry on September 27th. We packed our dog Francee into the car. My husband Richard grabbed his cane–he’s had some trouble walking lately–and I took the laptops, some French cutlery, two decent wine glasses and a bottle of Relic (St Helenans flee with St Helenan wine, right?).”
What this shows more than anything, else is how out-of-touch mayoral candidate Mary Koberstein is with the St. Helena community that exists outside her bubble. Rather than two decent wine glasses and a bottle of wine, after the Go Bag, important papers, and computers, our thoughts went straight to irreplaceable family photos, especially of our parents and our kids.
But it’s also worth taking a closer look at where that bottle of Relic she cherished so much actually came from. . . . .because not only was it not from St. Helena, it helps tell the tale of what is happening elsewhere in Napa County, where elected officials are often in the pockets of well-funded developers.
Relic Winery is located on Soda Canyon Rd., a narrow, winding, mountain road that begins on the east side of the Silverado Trail just south of Oak Knoll and doubles back to the north along the flanks of Atlas Peak to end in beautiful Foss Valley. This is “rural” Napa, and a number of hardy pioneer families still live there.
In describing Relic, and another particularly unpopular winery among the local residents, Bill Hocker, diligent archivist for The Soda Canyon Road, had this to say:
“Relic Winery and the Caves at Soda Canyon are the two wineries that have been approved on our road since the loosening of tourism restriction in 2010. Both are on properties just over 10 acres in size. Both properties have no grapes and no residence. Both have steep winding one-lane access drives with constricted access onto Soda Canyon Road. As wineries both are unnecessary. They have been built solely to offer tourist venues with views of the more remote rural areas of the county – at the expense of the residential community that the road serves.”
The Saga of Relic Wine is somewhat reflective of the relentless assault on our hillsides and watershed by wineries and event centers and the deaf ear the Napa County Board of Supervisors turns toward local residents, whose primary concerns are safety. During the Atlas Peak Fire in 2017, after the Relic Winery was approved over the objections of the residents, 118 of the 163 residences on Soda Canyon Road or its offshoots were completely destroyed and another 16 were damaged. People fleeing for their lives had to drive their cars through flames to escape. Others were airlifted to safety. And two people lost their lives.
We can all be thankful that no one lost their life during the Glass Fire, but still grieve for our friends and neighbors who lost their homes, their memories, and their livelihoods. But most importantly, we can show a little compassion and respect for those who have lost so much by not flaunting a bottle of wine.
We have an important election coming up–one that will not only define us as a nation, but one that will define the future of our community, as well. And though some would have you think otherwise, there is a way to move forward and thrive that doesn’t have come at the expense of our small town, the people, the families, and the values we all hold dear. But it’s going to take the kind of resilience, creativity, and compassion shown by Mayor Geoff Ellsworth and Leslie Stanton and David Knudsen to get us there otherwise we may end up as just another spot on a tourist’s map of places to visit in Drunk Disneyland.
They were careless people, Tom and Daisy—they smashed up things and . . . then retreated back into their money . . . and let other people clean up the mess they had made.
As we get closer to the election, and making a decision on Measure G, we’re going to start hearing more and more comments implying the “The City is Broke” by a number of local noisemakers.
This is not only not true, it is a deliberate scare tactic being put forth by some, and repeated by others, with the intention of making the voters believe that selling the Adams Street property to a resort developer is imperative to St. Helena’s financial health.
Mark Smithers, CPA and Chairman of the SHAPE Committee (St. Helena Assets Planning Engagement Committee) offers the following to clear up recent misstatements and information omissions that have been published in the local newspaper:
Adams St is not going to be the funding source many are describing to fix our municipal funding needs. I’ve been involved in property transactions for 40 years and no sane purchaser / developer is going to pay $25 million for this property until their project is approved. The City may get $1 million earnest money, but the remainder comes upon project approval and that will be at least 7 years from when the property is sold.
Adams St doesn’t need to be sold. A more favored form of municipal financing for infrastructure (City Hall, Police Station, Library improvements) is General Obligation Bonds. The City Manager and the City Finance Director both confirmed that your property taxes would go up less than 3% under a $25 million GO Bond. I’ve asked them to publish this information to the public to eliminate the confusion.
The City Council, in a September 2018 meeting, approved building City Hall at its current site. Some folks are suggesting this never happened. As a consequence we went down some tangled path and as a result we still haven’t started building a much need City Hall. SHAPE was asked to provide recommendations and the overwhelming favorite of the committee was to rebuild City Hall at its current site. It’s all in the report.
Regarding Water and Wastewater CIP (construction and major repair), the staff report and The Star editorial suggest the CIP is “mostly unfunded.” That’s not really right. The 2016 rate study only went out 10 years, not the 20 years the recent CIP Engineering Report provided. The 2017 staff report on the new rates did go out 20 years and it provided for $22 million of water CIP and $15 million of wastewater CIP. If you look at this issue more clearly and transparently, our current rates by and large are based on the project totals that are in the engineer’s report. It is not right to say they are unfunded and suggest there is a financial disaster in the Water and Wastewater entities. Financially they are in very good shape with incredibly high reserves and positive cash flow adding to those reserves.
As to Storm Drain replacement, which is funded through the General Fund, not the water or wastewater entities, nearly $12 million is for drainage improvements. This means $7 million is for repair and replacement over 20 Years; that’s $350,000 a year. Yes, we have storm drains that need to be replaced, but it isn’t the financial catastrophe being suggested. And yes, let’s make improvements, but these can be mapped out and staged as our General Fund allows. We lived without storm drains on many of our more rural city roads (Dean York, South Crane, Sulphur Springs, Mills Lane, etc.); we don’t need to rush to add storm drains to all them now.
My points above are to provide correct information and information that wasn’t shared. Some folks are using aspects of the information to scare us into thinking we need to sell the farm and that just isn’t so.
It seems our former mayor, Alan Galbraith, is still smarting from losing the election in 2018 to Geoff Ellsworth and he’s pulling out all the stops, including supporting both of Ellsworth’s opponents in this year’s race with campaign contributions to both.
After seeing a letter I had written to the St. Helena Star regarding water security and which ultimately endorsed Mayor Geoff Ellsworth as the only candidate in this year’s race who was addressing some of these larger issues, Galbraith emailed me (twice!) and challenged me to defend my comments. When I didn’t respond to the first one, he emailed again. Other than the inappropriateness of these emails (and wondering how he got my email address…..other than from official correspondence I may have sent when he was mayor), what is really annoying is that I had attempted on several occasions to discuss water security issues with him when he was mayor. His response then was to blow me off with a condescending smile and broad, dismissive statements such as, “Oh, we have plenty of water.” (LAFCO has since reported otherwise.)
He might as well have said, “Don’t you worry your pretty little head about that, little lady.” (Ok, I took liberties with the “pretty” part.)
But this? This really is beyond the pale.
In a letter to the editor published in the St. Helena Star, Galbraith wrote, “My plea: As we move into the forthcoming municipal election, please evaluate candidates based on their qualifications, the inclusivity of their message (we are all in this together), and not on vacuous utterances rooted in purported “home town” superiority.”
First of all, it is worth noting that one of the candidates Galbraith endorsed for city council, seemed to cringe at receiving Galbraith’s endorsement. He asked the editor of the St. Helena Star to include the following with Galbraith’s endorsement letter: “Sadly, the most troubling thing for me about Alan’s endorsement is this: his time as mayor seems emblematic of the division and discord that continue to trouble us.” Indeed.
In my mind it takes a special kind of bitterness to try to turn a message of inclusivity, one that was meant to let the people in this community know that they would be heard (those who often were ignored or dismissed by our former mayor—including other city council members) in to “home town superiority.” (Where have we heard that nasty twist of messaging before?)
There are many reasons Galbraith lost the election in 2018 and I must say a breath of fresh air filled the council chambers once Galbraith handed the gavel to Mayor Geoff Ellsworth. Meaningful conversations between the council members became more productive, instructive, and inclusive rather than dictatorial. Procedures and protocol were followed in an orderly manner without the chaos that sometimes ensued when Galbraith attempted to suppress meaningful debate or simply lost track of what was going on.
Now it appears Galbraith is trying to turn the clock back by endorsing his former Vice Mayor, Peter White, for Mayor, and (in addition to the candidate who rejected his endorsement) a relative newcomer to town for city council……citing it was because he was a “business man.” (I remember people liking George W. Bush and Trump for the same reasons. We all know how that turned out.)
But the more likely reason Galbraith endorsed this other candidate is further petty revenge, as this candidate is married to the owner of the Clover Flat Landfill who was miffed when Mayor Ellsworth questioned the safety of the landfill in its current location and made her objections to the mayor’s concerns quite public. (Indeed, fire swept through the landfill during the Glass Fire.)
I think the most troubling part about the former mayor’s quest for revenge and relevance is that it could end up doing further damage to the care, thoughtfulness, and inclusivity Mayor Ellsworth has sought to build these past two years. It also attempts to discredit Leslie Stanton, the other member of the “Hometown Team” who is a long-standing and respected member of the community. What exactly is wrong with having someone on the city council who, after serving St. Helena for the last 30-some years as the children’s librarian, wants to continue to serve to ensure that the often-forgotten voices of the families who call this their home are heard?
Leslie Stanton would be a wonderful addition to the St. Helena City Council and would serve with compassion, integrity, and a solid institutional memory. (Does anyone else know where the well is that the city dug on Adams Street years ago? Can anyone else claim they had their first kiss at the York Creek Dam? Did any of the other candidates play in the Napa River and work in the family’s vineyards as a child?)
So, let’s not go backward, but keep moving forward with a mayor who listens to all of his constituents and a council member, Leslie Stanton, who is intelligent, harbors a thirst for knowledge, and understands the needs of the families that live here and the long-time family vintners, who have worked the land here for generations, and welcomes newcomers with open arms.
To hold elected office is to serve…….and to serve ALL stakeholders. Mayor Geoff Ellsworth and Leslie Stanton truly understand this.
There is a consent item on the St. Helena City Council’s Agenda for Tuesday’s meeting (October 13, 6pm) that you should be paying attention to if you are a resident of St. Helena.
As many of you know, Meadowood suffered some staggering losses during the Glass Fire, not only to its main building and restaurant, but to its water tanks, as well.
At Tuesday’s meeting, the City Council will be asked to ratify a number of professional service agreements and/ or construction contracts to include:
$50,000 to assess the preliminary damage and water quality assessments for the Meadowood Tanks and Bell Canyon
$92,000 to design permanent water infrastructure for the Meadowood Tanks
$100,000 for emergency fire clearing and debris removal at two of the Meadowood Tanks, the Bell Canyon Access Roads, and the water treatment plant
$29,987 for a rental agreement to procure 3 temporary tanks for the Meadowood area
$100,000 for emergency fire clearing and debris removal at the Meadowood Tanks
$75,000 for emergency tree removal for road access and debris clearance system- wide
Granted, this is an emergency situation and I’m sure we all mourn this loss to our greater community. But what we need to remember is that Meadowood and Madrone Knoll are not within the city limits. So, among other things, the City of St. Helena gets no benefit from the TOT, sales tax, or property taxes generated there!
So why isn’t Napa County dealing with the items related specifically to the Meadowood Tanks? After all, it is Napa County that derives the economic benefit from the taxes paid by Meadowood and the houses on Madrone Knoll, not the City of St. Helena. But, way back when, the City of St. Helena established a water agreement to deliver water to Meadowood.
In the original water agreement written in the 1960’s, Meadowood had an unlimited allocation of water from the City. That agreement was modified in the 1990’s to limit Meadowood’s allocation to 20.5 million gallons of water per year. At the same time, the City took over the ownership of the Meadowood water system. So, in exchange for a cap on how much water Meadowood could use, the City took on the expense of maintaining the Meadowood water tanks, and more.
In addition to that extraordinary expense, it also costs the City more to deliver the water, which gets there via a one-way spur from St. Helena’s main water system, to those tanks. There are also check valves in the Meadowood water line that prevent the water from recirculating back down to St. Helena’s main water system. So, the only customers who receive the benefit of that water (and this could be an important point) are the water customers at Meadowood and Madrone Knoll.
Also, because that water has to be separately pumped up to the Meadowood tanks at a higher elevation, there are additional energy expenses to get it there. Up until 2016, Meadowood was paying the city an annual $50,000 surcharge to cover that extra energy expense. But, accepting the advice of a consultant hired to work with an Ad Hoc Committee (which included then Mayor Galbraith and Vice-Mayor Peter White), and based on their interpretation of California’s Proposition 218, the Ad Hoc Committee made recommendations to the City Council (again presided over by then Mayor Galbraith and Vice-Mayor White) to abandon the annual $50,000 surcharge. And the City Council, agreed.
At that point, St Helena residents began subsidizing Meadowood and the homes on Madrone Knoll even more–again, without benefit of the TOT, sales, or property taxes collected there.
Among other things, California’s Proposition 218 addresses how municipal governments can collect user fees such as water billing service. There is a clause in the Proposition that reads:
“The amount of a fee or charge imposed upon any parcel or person as an incident of property ownership shall not exceed the proportional cost of the service attributable to the parcel”.
“What this means,” says Tom Belt, a St. Helena resident who has consulted with an attorney specializing in water law, “is that municipalities cannot charge customers for a service if a parcel/person doesn’t benefit from that service. In other words, municipalities cannot require customers who do not receive a service to share in the cost to provide the service to customers who receive the service.”
Consequently, St. Helena should not be proportionally charging those water customers within the city limits, for service that is only received, in this case, by approximately 100 Meadowood customers.
Replacing the three Meadowood water tanks has been on the city’s 5-year Capital Improvement list since 2016. At that time the projected replacement costs for the tanks was $500K. A few months ago, the city revised that cost to $900K. But now that the tanks were destroyed in the Glass Fire, our city council is being asked to approve additional funding to provide temporary water tanks for Meadowood and Madrone Knoll water customers.
According to the city council’s October 13th staff report, the city will be working on recovering those additional costs, related to fire damage, through funds from the State. But what if the City does not recover the costs? Who will get left holding the bag, so to speak?
Given that this item is on the Consent Calendar, it could get passed by the council next Tuesday without discussion. It seems that, at the very least, the resolution should state that if the city does not receive full reimbursement for theses expenses, Meadowood and Madrone Knoll customers should have to reimburse the City’s Water Enterprise Fund. The burden of delivering water to Meadowood has fallen on the other St. Helena water customers for too long.
As it is, the City may already be at risk of litigation under Proposition 218 for imposing the same water fees on those customers who do not benefit from the water delivered to the resort and the homeowners on Madrone Knoll, as they do on Meadowood. And, according to Belt, if the City Council approves the costs to replace the Meadowood water tanks out of the City’s Enterprise Account, the risk of litigation may be even greater.
“Who knows how the council will vote this Tuesday?” says Belt. “I’ve sent email messages to three of the council members asking them for their input on this issue, but so far, I have only heard back from one.”
The meeting is Tuesday. If you want your concerns heard, here are the options:
1. Send a Public Comment in by 4:00 PM on Tuesday to email@example.com Include in the subject line “COMMENT TO COUNCIL – AGENDA ITEM 8.4.” Any public comment submitted no later than 2 hours before the scheduled meeting will be included as an attachment to the agenda but will not be read out loud. All public comments that are received after 4:00 PM will be attached to the agenda the following day.
2. Provide your comment through the Zoom meeting from a computer, tablet, or smart phone. This option allows the public to virtually attend the meeting as a muted ‘attendee’ with no video or screen sharing capabilities. You will be able to see and hear those participating in the meeting, but they will not be able to hear you until the host unmutes you. (See The Agenda for additional information on this option.)
3. Call in to the ZOOM meeting from a cell phone or landline phone only. This option allows the member of the public with the opportunity to verbally participate in public comment. Again instructions can be found on The Agenda.
Everyone who lives in St. Helena and beyond has their own harrowing and often heart-breaking story. Some narrowly escaped with their lives. Others are coming home to the burnt remains of a life that once was.
But as the hillsides burned all around us this past week and we faced a future of uncertainty, Leslie Stanton, our beloved (retired) children’s librarian, offered these words of hope and resilience to our community, its families, and its children.
These are the hometown values we cherish. Don’t let anyone else tell you otherwise.
This is about the St. Helena water system and your water security.
It is important to remember that water access and water security are primary equity factors in a business or home investment. In order to understand that concept it helps to consider water as a financial equity item like money.
Therefore, lack of oversight of our water resources equals lack of fiscal oversight.
If you are a resident, homeowner or business owner using the St. Helena Water System, this is important information for you.
Who is Part of the City Water System?
The St. Helena water system stretches as far south as Rutherford, so even if you don’t live in or have your business in St. Helena city limits, you may still be a St. Helena water customer.
St. Helena provides roughly 2,700 water hookups for businesses and residents, including 50 hookups on special Water Agreements for large users or water used strictly as fire protection. Approximately 350 hookups are outside St. Helena city limits.
Inadequate Written Policies or Procedures
The St. Helena water/wastewater system is one that has evolved over time and been cobbled together over many years under many administrations. There is currently no formal system of proper administration.
It appears there is little comprehensive knowledge of this Water Enterprise system. Little information has been made available to the St. Helena City Council (which also serves as the local government financial oversight committee) or the general public. Little mapping has been done or has been made available to better understand the system. At present this water enterprise also appears to lack an adequate system of internal controls, including a lack of adequate written policies or procedures to ensure proper administration.
City Water is a $3-4 Million Business
The St. Helena Water and Wastewater Enterprise funds make up a $3 – 4 million dollar business within the City of St. Helena, a business that provides this essential element to local businesses, residents and homes, insuring viability of their equity investment in St. Helena.
What’s important to recognize here is that this $3 – 4 million dollar business also serves as a foundation for the $100s of millions of dollars in equity investments of our large and small businesses, as well as residential investment. Your investment in your home is worth little if you don’t have access to a reliable and affordable source of water.
Not All Users Are Regulated
Most users on our system are in some way regulated in their use of municipal water; however it is becoming apparent that some are not.
In this write-up the word regulation is used not primarily in the context of “rules,” but also in terms of physical management of water flowing through our system, as we might think of an emitter on a drip irrigation line that regulates physical flow.
The point of bringing this to your attention is because of the current inadequacies of the system, St. Helena needs to take immediate measures to continue ensuring equitable water distribution, water access, and fairness to all of our customers.
Engineering Project Needed
While St. Helena recently engaged an economic consultant to make water rate recommendations, it is my conclusion after consulting with public officials and administrators in other small cities that this is not just an economic project but an engineering project that includes an economic element within it.
A strictly economic approach to understanding the water system does not provide enough data to fully address and quantify the situation. Physical data is needed as well, and thus a full water system engineering approach is needed to map and understand our water/wastewater system. Data is needed to address any inherent inadequacies, inequities, or inefficiencies, including analysis to safeguard our Bell Canyon municipal water source.
While we in the community have all been busy and rightfully focusing on our own lives and businesses, we seem to have never fully understood that we operate on a shared water system that is in need of proper policies, procedures and internal controls to safeguard equitable distribution through informed decisions about water allocation, regulation and rates.
It is in everyone’s best interests to do so now, while our water resources are relatively good and the primary administrator (City of St. Helena) is in a position to implement such a process.
A full water system engineering project will only get more difficult if we wait until times of further drought or the addition of more customers that will increase demand, putting more pressure on an already delicate and not fully quantified system.
The expense of such an endeavor would be justified not only for the sustainability of our $3 – 4 million water/wastewater enterprise, but as referenced earlier, for the $100’s of millions of dollars in equity that depend on a properly administrated water system.
An engineering approach will provide a foundation for such projects as a large scale distribution of tertiary (recycled) water, which other cities have embarked upon, and which would make our system even more efficient and capable of meeting future demand.
Advocate to the St. Helena City Council to understand the need for a proper engineering-basedanalysis of the system and the need for a proper system of written policies, procedures and internal controls.
In order to ensure our collective water security we must fully understand our collective water system. The entire system must have some type of overall quantification for the proper flow regulation to provide fair and equitable access to our collective municipal water source.
The local governing body (City of St. Helena) is the only entity with the proper authority to equitably administrate this.
Lending the collective voices of those who use the water system to advocate for and support such an engineering approach will benefit not only the City of St. Helena but all of our water customers whose equity investments depend on a properly understood and functioning water and wastewater system.
The St. Helena water system lacks proper internal controls, written policies, and procedures.
Not all users of the water system are regulated.
Our collective and independent equity depends on a properly administrated water system.
The opportune time to fix the system is now while water is in relative abundance.
An engineering-based analysis of the St. Helena water/wastewater system is needed to fully understand, quantify, and properly administrate the system. It is the method to acquire the necessary data for proper analysis.