It would be easy to conclude that this election marked some kind of sea change for the Napa County Board of Supervisors.
At this time in 2014, the board was all Anglo, four men and one woman, with an average age of 59 and an average tenure on the board of more than 14 years.
Following this election, the board is dramatically different – two women, two Latinos, an average age of 47, and three of the five have two years or less of time on the board (indeed, one has no elective experience whatsoever). That drops the average tenure on the board to less than 9 years.
We met last week with the two newest supervisors – Belia Ramos of American Canyon and Ryan Gregory of Napa. We were impressed with what we heard from both of them, but we were particularly struck by a point that Ramos made: That the board actually has more in common with boards of the past than the statistics might indicate.
All five new members are natives of Napa County. They are products of local schools, and are roughly representative of the ethnic makeup of the county. Two members are children of farmworkers and have an intimate understanding of agriculture and the struggles of those engaged in it. In these respects, the board is more like boards from the 1950s and ‘60s than it at first appears (with the fortunate exception of a near-even gender balance).
The five supervisors also happen to have long personal ties that may help them work as a cohesive group: two of the five, Gregory and Alfredo Pedroza, were students of Supervisor Brad Wagenknecht, a teacher in his non-political life, and Ramos helped revive the Interact Club at St. Helena High School, working closely with Supervisor Diane Dillon, then head of the city’s sponsoring Rotary Club.
What will our newest supervisors bring to the board when they first meet officially on Jan. 10?
Gregory brings a soft-spoken style with a deep knowledge of development and housing issues from his work as a civil engineer consulting on building projects. He vowed to advocate for new housing to ease the county’s chronic shortage of affordable places to live, which brings with it added traffic from workers forced to commute in from more affordable areas.
Gregory said the current debate on developing the old Health and Human Services campus on Old Sonoma Road is a chance to make good on that promise. While he vowed to be flexible with those seeking to preserve historic buildings, he said that site must be used to add some housing.
Ramos brings an energetic, detail-oriented style to the board, developed as an attorney and refined over six years as an American Canyon City Council member. She agreed about the need for housing, including on the HHS site, but she made clear that her top priority as supervisor will be to build consensus county-wide on a plan to ease traffic along Highway 29 through American Canyon. The city’s plan to add lanes and other improvements will be expensive and the county will need to speak with a unified voice to have any hope of getting state or federal money.
Ramos also brings what could be a unifying element to the board: although she lives in and represents American Canyon, she is a native of St. Helena. She grew up on a farm in the city and can speak with credibility to the needs and concerns of Upvalley residents, even as the population and center of political gravity continues to shift south toward Napa and American Canyon.
We will be meeting with the other newer supervisor – Chairman Alfredo Pedroza, just finishing his first two years on the board – in a few weeks. But in the meantime, we were pleased with our meetings with the two new supervisors and believe the county government remains in good hands.