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.
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.