The Case for YES on Measure G

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 SHAPE Committee did not recommend selling Adams Street (read the final report on the city website).
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 Report on 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.”

Krys Smith

Eric Hall and the Fabulous Fib

“. . . . . 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.)

This myth about the city’s finances has been debunked over and over again. And yet it keeps popping up every time some pro-development type wants to fool the voters into thinking they have all the answers and the answer is to sell our community to the highest bidder. (Look where that got us with  Peter White and the Alcobas fiasco.)

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. . . . . .
    • “In May 2019, a chemical reaction between improperly disposed materials caused an explosion that sent a worker to the hospital. . . . .” (Wine-Searcher.com, “Landfill Woes Napa’s Latest Concern,” 27-Oct-2020)

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.

When looking at who is endorsing Eric Hall for St. Helena City Council, you might ask yourself, 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 what local businesses does he actually plan on supporting? Apparently not the local serving businesses that support the people who live here.

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.

Leslie Stanton Understands the Meaning of Service

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.”

Leslie Stanton, inspiring young readers at the St. Helena Public Library.

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 Stanton as a young mom, walking with her son John in the one of the family family vineyards on Dowdell Lane.

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.

Leslie Stanton enjoying some quality time with her grandson, Anthony.

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:

It’s the little things that really count. . . . . . .

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.

Opinion – The Hometown Team Bats the Former Mayor Out of the Ball Park

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.

“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.”

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.

I have no problems at all with the Hometown Team.

— Elaine de Man

As Napa Valley Burns

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.