In his third go-around as chairman of the Napa County Board of Supervisors, Supervisor Brad Wagenknecht is charting an agenda that figures to have impacts rippling far beyond his First District, which is rooted in the southwest corner of the county.
The agenda includes familiar local political and government fare such as the Napa Pipe project, land-use in Angwin, the redevelopment of the Health and Human Services Agency’s campus and working to attain federal funding for the Oxbow bypass project.
But Wagenknecht also proposed severing elections from the duties of the county assessor-recorder-clerk’s office, expanding a potential recycled water pipeline to supply the Carneros area, setting up a local gun exchange program and convening meetings of local elected officials, and those from Marin, Sonoma and Solano counties.
Wagenknecht, who served as board chairman in 2003 and 2008, takes the helm of the Board of Supervisors during its first meeting of 2013 next Tuesday. He sat down with the Napa Valley Register last week to discuss the year ahead.
Following the weeks-long delay in knowing the results of Napa County’s election last November, Wagenknecht said he’ll be proposing a reorganization to make elections management a separate duty from the county’s assessor-recorder-clerk, which is an office held by John Tuteur. Tuteur is also the registrar of voters.
Wagenknecht said those delays have occurred in several of the last election cycles.
“There’s been a great deal of dissatisfaction with some of the having to wait three weeks to hear,” Wagenknecht said. “I thought it would be one election, but it turns out this is the game plan.”
He said he’s also displeased with the sweeping conversion to vote-by-mail in Napa County — more than 80 percent are now vote-by-mail — and he believes that’s a contributing factor to the delays.
“I’m going to propose that we look at different configurations for that little function,” Wagenknecht said. “No other county has the issues that I can see. There might be other answers.”
Contacted on Friday, Tuteur said the idea to split up his duties had been proposed several times in recent years, but had not been implemented.
The post-election delays in coming up with a final vote count are a product of diligence in counting ballots, Tuteur said.
“If you are going to have a good registrar it’s going to take that long, no matter who the registrar is,” Tuteur said.
Wagenknecht said he’d also like to start a conversation about setting up an gun exchange locally that could give people gift cards or other incentives for turning in firearms. It would be modeled after other programs that have gained attention nationally after the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., last month.
“I want to start with that conversation,” Wagenknecht said. “I want to meet with our community and see what we can do to move Napa in that direction.”
One of the biggest issues the board will tackle this year will also be one of its first — the Napa Pipe project, which has a hearing before the board set for Jan. 14. The supervisors are slated to hear — and potentially vote on — the project’s proposed General Plan and zoning amendments, which, if approved, would be another step toward the project breaking ground.
Wagenknecht said that even with the upcoming hearing, his long-term vision for the project, if it’s going to be residential, is to pursue annexing it within the city of Napa. He said earlier last week that the county must wrap up satisfying its current housing plan, which includes a 20-acre residential development at the site, and that necessitates the hearing.
“I think the eventual answer of that is going to be annexation,” Wagenknecht said. “We’re going to get our fingers dirty with that in a few weeks.”
Also next Tuesday, the board has been asked to weigh in on the potential purchase of the Dey Labs site, which is next to the Napa Pipe site, as a future home for the county Health and Human Services Agency.
Wagenknecht said he’s heard neighborhood concerns about a proposal to redevelop the agency’s Old Sonoma Road campus. The plans call for consolidating the agency to one location, which would require a multistory building and a lengthy construction project.
Neighbors worry about sightline and the impacts of construction, said Wagenknecht, who intends to bring those to his fellow supervisors when it’s time to make a decision.
“I want to take very seriously the issues that the neighbors have expressed to me,” Wagenknecht said.
Beyond that, he said he’s looking to Supervisors Diane Dillon and Bill Dodd this year to work with Pacific Union College and Save Rural Angwin to find a compromise on land-use issues in Angwin, following the defeat of Measure U at the November election.
The board in 2009 partially tackled the issue when the “eco-village” development proposal was still alive. The supervisors placed restrictions on the potential for residential development within Angwin’s so-called urban bubble, but put aside until June 2010 a decision on the 63 acres where the ecovillage was proposed. The ecovillage was dropped, and the board never took action on that decision.
That inaction was one of the motivations that led Save Rural Angwin to pursue a ballot initiative to bar future housing developments from those parcels, but Measure U was defeated.
Looking back, Wagenknecht said the board could have done more, but doubted any action would have been considered a complete solution at that point.
“Could we have been better?” Wagenknecht asked. “Probably. I don’t know if it would have done us any good. I don’t know if there was an answer from the board at that point.”
Following Measure U, he said he looks for a dialogue between the county, the college and Save Rural Angwin as the solution.
“I think Measure U showed both sides there’s strong feelings,” Wagenknecht said. “I think both sides still think it’s very much alive politically. A better answer would be a negotiated settlement.”
Wagenknecht said the Los Carneros Water District may have an opportunity this year to get access to recycled water from the Napa Sanitation District because the approved St. Regis resort, at Stanly Ranch, has plans for an 8-inch pipeline to extend under the Napa River to the development site.
The 8-inch pipe would be large enough only to cover the resort’s needs, but Wagenknecht said he will advocate the pipeline be expanded to 20- or 24-inches. That would be enough to supply up to 1,000 acre-feet of recycled water to agricultural production in Carneros in the winter, and 150 acre-feet in the summer.
Aware that this proposal could draw criticism that it would promote growth and development, Wagenknecht said he’s not advocating the sewer line to the resort project be expanded if and when the resort project obtains construction financing.
“We’d be foolish to not get at least a 20-inch line; 24-inch would be better,” Wagenknecht said. “We’re not trying to be a big growth motivator. This is for ag purposes. It’s basically a one-way pipe.”
On the Oxbow bypass project, Wagenknecht said two recent rain storms have proven the effectiveness of the flood control projects on Napa Creek and the Napa River — and the need to get the $23 million in federal funding to finish the downtown bypass.
Without the project, he said the creek and the river undoubtedly would have flooded in downtown, wracking up more than $1 million in damages and government costs.
“That’s the last big piece,” Wagenknecht said. “We saw how those bypasses worked in the Napa Creek. It’s so nice to go down to Uva and not have to step over sand bags.”
Shaking loose money from the federal government may prove tricky this year given Congress’ focus on cutting spending, but Wagenknecht said it’s imperative local officials continue to try.
“We’ve done our share” Wagenknecht said of the local funding share of the flood project. “This is in their court to do. It should have been almost automatic but it’s not and we have to fight for it.”