The area’s new state senator, Lois Wolk, met informally with the Napa City Council at the Napa Valley Opera House on Friday morning to learn the city’s top legislative concerns.
Wolk said she was eager to restore a limited form of redevelopment funding so Napa can pay for community improvement projects, but many issues need to be worked out in Sacramento.
California’s 40-year-old environmental impact law also needs reworking so it cannot be so easily be used as a weapon against development by litigants who have non-environmental concerns, Wolk said.
Wolk, a Davis Democrat who has been in the Legislature for 10 years, was elected to her second state senate term in November after her district was reshaped to include all of Napa County.
“We think we were winners in getting you,” Mayor Jill Techel said of the redistricting process.
Because of a quirk of redistricting and election cycles, Wolk and Noreen Evans, D-Santa Rosa, will both represent Napa County through 2014, when Wolk alone will take over the new senate district.
Napa lost tens of millions of future redevelopment dollars when Wolk and the Legislature voted a year ago to wipe out California’s redevelopment agencies as a means of funneling more property tax revenue back to other taxing jurisdictions. This vote occurred at the height of the state’s fiscal crisis.
At the time, Wolk said she favored creating a new type of redevelopment program that would protect school revenues, but there was no time to work out a compromise with the governor and cities.
Now she is pushing again to resurrect redevelopment, but with new features. New projects would require a vote of affected property owners and concurrence by entities that would lose property tax revenue. Unlike the old system, schools would retain their property revenues.
Under such a system, “There will be a lot less money available to you, but there will be some money available to you,” Wolk said.
The end of redevelopment financing disrupted city plans to complete some downtown improvements, including several pocket parks, and finance a drainage system in the Soscol Gateway district.
The Legislature isn’t likely to pass a new financing bill soon because Gov. Jerry Brown wants to see how the state’s finances shake out, Wolk said.
“Unfortunately, he holds all the cards,” Wolk said of the governor.
In advocating reform of the California Environmental Quality Act, Wolk said she was looking for “real-world examples” of how the law wasn’t working.
Rick Tooker, the city’s community development director, cited lawsuits against two of three recent apartment projects that offered affording units.
The suits challenged the projects’ environmental analyses, but the real reasons were NIMBYism, Tooker said.
Neighbors who challenge projects in court under the environmental law should have to pay a greater financial price if their suits are judged without merit, Tooker said.
At the request of Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, Wolk said she was introducing a resolution asking the state senate to endorse federal efforts at gun law reform.
The resolution would ask Congress to use California gun laws as a national example, Wolk said. This would mean banning assault weapons and mandating more background checks of prospective buyers, she said.
When it comes to matters of public safety, Wolk said she generally followed the consensus of police chiefs. “When I vote on bills, I follow law enforcement,” she said.
Wolk, a former school teacher and youth soccer coach, described herself as “less ideological than most of my colleagues.”
“I’m a problem-solver,” she said.
This story has been altered since first posting to better describe Napa County's current dual representation in the state senate.