Calistoga Council

Latina businesswoman named to Calistoga council

2013-02-06T11:20:00Z 2013-02-20T18:03:10Z Latina businesswoman named to Calistoga councilSEAN SCULLY Napa Valley Register
February 06, 2013 11:20 am  • 

Calistoga’s City Council filled a vacant seat Tuesday night with businesswoman Irais Lopez, the first Latino woman to sit on the council.

“I believe that all Latinos who live in this town need stronger representation and a voice that can speak up on their behalf,” she told the council before the vote.

Lopez, who runs a business caring for senior citizens, said she immigrated to the United States 23 years ago and picked Calistoga as a good place to raise her kids.

“I took every opportunity this country had for me … I accomplished the American Dream,” she said. “At the same time I feel that others like me need the support to succeed.”

She has been a prolific volunteer, including serving on the board of the Calistoga Art Center and working with the Calistoga Family Center and the Calistoga Education Foundation.

The seat was left vacant in December when newly-elected Councilmember Carl Sherrill resigned in protest after the remaining council members refused to appoint former candidate Charlotte Williams to a previous vacancy. The council passed over Williams, who had placed third in the six-way election in November, and named fourth-place candidate Jim Barnes to the open seat.

Williams applied for the latest vacancy as well, arguing that she had the clear support of a significant segment of the community, having gotten 711 votes in last year’s election.

Barnes and Mayor Chris Canning nominated and voted for Williams on Tuesday, but the motion died after members Michael Dunsford and Gary Kraus refused to support her.

Lopez was appointed 3-1, with only Barnes objecting.

Williams’ supporters said the council had consistently ignored the will of the voters who supported her in the election, and dismissed her qualifications as a volunteer, mother, and budding politician.

“So what is the council’s issue with this woman,” asked Michele Verdeille before the vote.

They also questioned whether Lopez would be an independent voice on the City Council. She has been outspoken in her support for a pair of proposed resort developments in Calistoga, as have the four sitting members of the council. Lopez appeared in a recent promotional video from the developer of the Enchanted Resorts project, which will be on a special election ballot on March 5 as Measure C.

Sherrill and Williams were passionate critics of the resorts, Enchanted Resorts and the unrelated Silver Rose Inn redevelopment, which was approved by voters last fall. Both were leaders of the effort to challenge the resorts at the ballot box.

Friends and family testified, however, that Lopez was motivated to apply not by her support for the resorts, but by disappointment in the abrupt resignation of Sherrill, for whom she had voted. She had seen Sherrill, a retired teacher and the only bilingual candidate in last fall’s race, as a reliable voice for the Latino community, at least until his resignation after less than a month in office.

Supporters of Lopez argued that the city’s Latino population, roughly half of the total, has been poorly represented on the council. Former Councilmember Placido Garcia, the only previous Latino to serve, was among a series of speakers, including some of the seven other people who had applied for the vacancy, that endorsed her.

“She’s a very hard-working lady,” he said. “She loves Calistoga.”

In all, nine candidates stepped forward for the vacancy. Joining Williams and Lopez were former mayor Jack Gingles; financial services executive Seth Gersch; retired IT executive Albert “Dutch” Farha; bed and breakfast owner Dennis McNay; olive oil shop owner Jamie Anzalone; retired businesswoman Mary Kay Macy; and winemaker Bob Pecota.

Before the vote, Barnes paused to apologize for a remark he made in January while urging as many people as possible to apply for the open position. He had said that the council would welcome applications from anyone, including a “gay, green Martian.”

That comment went down poorly with the city’s gay community and irritated Williams supporters, who said it was a cruel devaluing of her qualifications.

On Tuesday he called it “an insensitive term intended as hyperbole.”

“The citizens of Calistoga have a right to expect better from elected officials,” he said, pledging to be more mindful of his words.

Copyright 2015 Napa Valley Register. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(14) Comments

    Report Abuse
    BRGMGB - February 06, 2013 2:12 pm
    Having gender and ethnic diversity on the city council is a good thing for the town. However, I believe it was not the primary consideration in the choice of Ms. Lopez for the council position.
    Ms. Lopez was not forthcoming at the city council meeting as to where she stands on the new large resorts that are planned here. This is the most important component of a candidate's philosophy of what he/she wants to see happen to Calistoga. It had been the most important issue in the election yet was not mentioned by either Ms. Lopez or the council members when she was being considered.
    Sadly, not only is she a proponent of large resorts, she even appears as a proponent of Enchanted Resorts on a video produced by the developer, where she is endorses their new resort.
    My question is: Why wasn't her position on this important issue discussed during the council meeting?
  2. Can't Believe It
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    Can't Believe It - February 06, 2013 4:19 pm
    Simply put the Council selected the person who could best represent the unrepresented of Calistoga. The speakers for Williams? Well they where the same roudy faces that show up as her supporters and have invested time and money in her. One or more of whom are active with "Tar and Feathers". Half of the people that spoke for Williams are rich land owners who live in the County. When Irais' supporters spoke, it was always positive, never a harsh or rude word. Compared to the "Hater Group" and you will realize that the Council made the best possible decision.
  3. shantz
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    shantz - February 06, 2013 9:06 pm
    I for one applaud Barnes and Canning for trying to do the right thing by voting for Charlotte.

    I don't know Lopez. While I am thrilled there is a Latina on the council, I am also concerned that there are no slow-growth voices on the council.

    A significant segment of the population is still not represented. I hope Lopez takes the time to truly consider the concerns held by the slow growth advocates.

    Report Abuse
    BRGMGB - February 06, 2013 10:00 pm
    Calling the people who want to preserve the heritage of the town the "Hater Group" is an insult to those of us who have lived here for many years and value the quality of life we have. I was at that meeting, and there were no harsh or rude words said by anyone at that meeting regarding Irais Lopez.

    I continue to pose the question which deserves an answer:

    Why wasn't Ms. Lopez' position on the subject of the large resorts discussed during the council meeting?

  5. Old Time Napkin
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    Old Time Napkin - February 07, 2013 8:38 am
    The article states this woman is an immigrant. I have no problem with immigrants, but is she a naturalized citizen? I would think that should be a pre-requisite to being on the city council. It would also make a great story how this lady came to this country , worked hard to become a citizen and is now participating in the very system that allowed her to become a citizen.
  6. Sean Scully Staff
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    Sean Scully - February 07, 2013 10:55 am
    I did not inquire specifically, Old Time, but she must be a naturalized citizen since the law limits council appointments to registered voters, and registered voters must be citizens. Your suggestion about a story about her history (and that of her family - she has quite a large and prominent local family, including a member of the school board), is a very good one. Thanks.
  7. Old Time Napkin
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    Old Time Napkin - February 07, 2013 5:47 pm
    Sean, thanks for your response. Almost everyone has had an immigrant somewhere in the family tree and their stories are very interesting.
  8. Ricecooker
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    Ricecooker - February 08, 2013 7:03 pm
    Can't believe it?
    I think that education is lacking in his comments he is obsessed with the city limits but is ignorant that the Calistoga School District received there votes to pass the school bond and they will pay taxes to pay it back?
    The hater group, what is that, do they hate the poor performance from what was actully a well rehearsed meeting for challanged viewers to curse there self serving act.
    Napa Mike please respond in a Martian Dialect to the dog and pony antic's
  9. Can't Believe It
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    Can't Believe It - February 09, 2013 7:45 am
    Actually the uninformed comment is coming from you! The School District has a seperately elected Board. Members of which are known as "Trustees". They come from and are elected by voters living in the School District. Their votes to pass a bond issue directly benefits their children that attend Calistoga Schools. So in that manner they are represented. The City Council has no authority over the School District.

    As for the "Hater Group" I'm pretty sure your there.
  10. wondering
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    wondering - February 09, 2013 5:27 pm
    I am a little confused about the new council member, she claims to have supported Mr Sherrill, yet we all were aware he was anti Prop C. All of a sudden she now endorses the Prop C yes vote. As evidenced by the Jan 16, 2013 U tube endosements by her, Canning and Kraus all on the same date. Must have been a U tube video person in town. Councilman Dunsford stated he talked (coached ?) to Ms. lopez the morning of the appointment for quite sometime.
  11. Can't Believe It
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    Can't Believe It - February 10, 2013 3:39 pm
    I believe the confusion is on your part. I have not seen anything that indcates Lopez in oppisition to Measure "C". I also don't believe that voting for Sherrill automatically placed you in the No on everything camp.
  12. BRGMGB
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    BRGMGB - February 12, 2013 12:49 am
    "' The citizens of Calistoga have a right to expect better from elected officials,' he said, pledging to be more mindful of his words."

    Good that he apologized, but I think Mr. Barnes forgot that he wasn't elected. He was appointed in what was a very contentious act of the city council..
  13. Ricecooker
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    Ricecooker - February 14, 2013 8:54 am
    I think, "can't", is a seated council member, with a lack of understanding of the danger of a negotiated appointments .( many voter's in this town do not embrace the current council)
    The moniker, "can't", must be from lack of a higher education which impairs analytical thinking by the very rational of input facts would lead to a sound conclusion of facts.
    The word "Hater Group" , is not a credible intelligent fact, but a more juvenile term.
    The word juvenile means," not fully developed", as is the mindset of the same.
    I beleive that Lopez and Barnes false hopes for Measure C will fail .
  14. 4thgeneration
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    4thgeneration - February 14, 2013 9:59 am
    If you can have no effect on your local politics, then there is no hope at the county, state or national level. When our new-pretend farmers, (stockbrokers, film makers, 1%ers; and trust funders) want to branch our and prosper by adding traffic, appropriating water and fire & police services, they start the engine of a monied bulldozer & flatten reasoned arguement: If you can't win fairly, buy the victory. Ten thousand yrs. of human history show us all that we cannot trust our lives to the the few who have inordinte power. What the billinionaire international ghost wants is not the continued good society of a cohesive town. What he needs, as Stalin once said, was "useful idiots". Charlotte just did not fit the bill. Perhaps Ms. Lopez is a well educated, experienced, careful, thoughtful thinker than can withstand the self distructive bent of the professional city employees that hop scotch from quiet picturesque town to town, leaving ruin, unhealable dissention & low paying jobs .
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