Assemblywoman Cecilia Aguiar-Curry is virtually assured of representing Napa County for a second two-year term in the state Legislature, given she has no opponent in the June 5 election.
No one from her own Democratic Party stepped forward to challenge her for the 4th Assembly seat. Nor did anyone from another party.
Aguiar-Curry said she had expected a Republican challenge from the more conservative areas of her district in Colusa County, Lake County and Solano County.
“But I made an internal bet with myself that if I worked hard and I did the right things and I represented this district, I was hoping no one would run against me,” she said. “I think I did that. I’m very excited and proud of what I’ve done and my team, because you don’t do this alone.”
She recently sat down for an interview in her local office at the Napa County South Campus. She took on a number of topics, talking as easily as having a chat with a neighbor and stressing her self-appointed role as a voice for rural areas in a Legislature dominated by big-city voices.
Aguiar-Curry won in 2016 as someone relatively unknown in Napa County, given she was the mayor of Winters, a town of 7,000 amid the walnut groves of Yolo County. She succeeded someone extremely well-known locally – native son Bill Dodd, who went on to the state Senate.
Two years later, Aguiar-Curry considered the question of what she has done for Napa County.
She immediately mentioned successfully teaming up with Dodd, D-Napa, on two bills the county sought for farmworker housing. One brought $250,000 annually in state funding and the other allowed vintners to increase an assessment that helps pay for three local farmworker centers.
Aguiar-Curry said she has a good rapport with the Speaker of the House Anthony Rendon and that helped pass the bills. She has a good rapport with Latino colleagues who understand farmworker needs.
She also credits Napa County with helping itself.
“Napa County was at the table,” she added. “They helped support the bill, they had locals support the bill. The wine makers, the wine associations all came and stepped forward and said, ‘We’re here to help our farmworkers.’”
Aguiar-Curry recently introduced a bill that would earmark employee housing rent money from the Veterans Home of California at Yountville for maintenance there, instead of going to the state general fund.
She championed the bill after visiting the veterans’ home. While finding much to praise there, she sees room to keep the facility in better repair.
“These are veterans who have helped our county,” she said. “They should be living in better situations … when I get a phone call that an 85-year old man has no heat in his room or air conditioning, that’s wrong.”
While touring the veterans’ home, she saw a sign that said to turn the water faucet on five minutes before drinking the water.
“It’s like, are you kidding me?” she said. “I was just really disheartened by the fact that, how did we let this go downhill? Granted, for years we’ve built things throughout this state, all infrastructure—dams, reservoirs, whatever -we never put the money in for operations and maintenance, for that followup.”
The Napa County Board of Supervisors recently supported the bill, though it was unknown how much money the rents might bring in for veterans’ home repairs.
Aguiar-Curry talked of speaking up for rural communities. Most legislation is targeted to help urban areas, she said.
“I think before I got there, there wasn’t a voice,” she said. “People say, ‘Oh, yeah, watch Cecilia, she’s going to always ask, ‘What is there for rural communities? And what’s for ag?’ Every single time, I ask that.”
A few other rural representatives have joined her to make a difference, Aguiar-Curry said. As an example, she mentioned last year’s Senate Bill 1 that raised the gas tax 12 cents per gallon to help maintain and improve roads, trails and mass transit.
“I made an approach to the Assembly speaker and I said, ‘I cannot vote for that bill until I get something out of it,’” Aguiar-Curry said. “He asked me what that would be. I said, ‘I think we should make sure rural communities and cities get more money for transportation.’ ”
The amount going to rural communities doubled, she said. Local transportation officials estimate Napa County and its cities will receive $5 million annually for street maintenance, with other Senate Bill 1 money also flowing to the county.
One bill receiving media attention is Senate Bill 827 by San Francisco Sen. Scott Wiener. It would grant the “by right” ability to build multi-story apartments and condos within a quarter mile of high-frequency transit route stops and within a half-mile of major transit stops, if the zoning allows housing.
Napa County’s Vine bus service doesn’t yet have the trip frequency to trigger the proposed SB 827 provisions, a Napa Valley Transportation Authority memo said. But possible express bus service improvements along Highway 29 in Napa Valley and American Canyon could change that situation.
That means a bill allowing by-right multi-story housing along BART and Los Angeles bus lines might also someday apply—should it pass—to the more rural world of Napa.
“It’s a big-city bill,” Aguiar-Curry said. “That’s why we need to have flexibility in these bills, because even in a small town such as Napa, you do have a transit route, buses.”
There will be a line a mile long of groups upset with the bill when it goes to committee, Aguiar-Curry said. But there will also be the new pro-housing element called YIMBY, or Yes in My Backyard. Perhaps such bills could apply to areas with certain populations, she said.
As these and other bills develop, Aguiar-Curry will be one of Napa County’s go-to people. Napa County Board of Supervisors Chair Brad Wagenknecht said she’s been there for the county so far.
“When the fires were going on, it was like she was a Napan and was in Napa regularly,” Wagenknecht said.
Aguiar-Curry worked with the North Bay counties on drafting fire-related legislation. She helped Napa County with the farm worker housing bills. She helped the county on issues with CalPERS, Wagenknecht said.
“She’s done a lot for Napa County,” he said. “She’s been very present. You see her almost as much as you see Dodd, who’s been a native here. That’s a high standard.”