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:
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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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.