Napa County 3rd District supervisor has to be one of the most challenging political posts in the North Bay. We’re lucky that Diane Dillon is up to the task.
She deals with politically sensitive winery and environmental issues at home, works with legislators to influence state housing laws, and chairs a nationwide committee of county officials concerned about tribal gaming. And she does it all in a county where the population base is shifting south, requiring the District 3 supervisor to be a political jack-of-all-trades and the de facto voice of the Upvalley.
She does it all with admirable aplomb, and she’s a prime example of how political experience can be a tremendous advantage, not a drawback. Now in her fourth term, Dillon has developed a deep understanding of the interrelationships between county, regional, state and federal issues, and she’s learned how to get things done at each of those levels.
When we asked her about her agenda for 2017, she said she wants to bring people together to understand and resolve issues based on facts, not emotions or preconceived notions.
Politics in general, and especially in the 3rd District, needs more people like Dillon who not only promote an informed, fact-based conversation, but also have the tact and interpersonal skills necessary to foster one.
As we’ve come to expect, Dillon was articulate and well-versed on every issue we brought up. Our discussion centered around three issues: housing, immigration and wineries.
Dillon said she recently met with State Senator Scott Weiner, who is sponsoring a bill that would expedite the approval of housing projects in the cities where they’re needed the most. Dillon asked him to make sure the bill includes adequate protections for ag land.
She supports the push for “by right” housing, which allows developers to build housing as long as it complies with the property’s zoning. The policy, which St. Helena has already grudgingly adopted under pressure from the state, is intended to prevent neighbors from using the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) as a cudgel against housing projects.
However, it doesn’t prevent neighbors from suing after a project is approved, as the city of St. Helena and would-be developer Joe McGrath have discovered on McCorkle Avenue.
Dillon said one way to square that circle is by adopting form-based codes, in which local governments embed design standards in their zoning code, ensuring that “by right” housing is compatible with the neighborhood. We hope St. Helena considers this when it updates its zoning ordinances after the adoption of the General Plan update.
Dillon also mentioned the new concept of “junior accessory dwelling units,” which allow homeowners to carve out an existing piece of their house and rent it out, on a monthly basis, as a second unit.
Dillon said the county is continuing to take a hard line on illegal vacation rentals. Each one represents a housing unit lost, she said.
On immigration, Dillon said the county has a policy of not holding an individual in the county jail solely at the request of federal immigration authorities, unless there’s a court order.
Alfredo Pedroza, chair of the Board of Supervisors, is working with all five mayors on a proclamation that would reassure people who are living in fear of a potential immigration crackdown without jeopardizing the federal funds the county receives, primarily for health and human services but also for law enforcement and other programs.
Dillon said the proclamation won’t go as far as declaring Napa County a “sanctuary county” or set any other policies that would endanger those funds, which are significant.
When the discussion turned to wineries, Dillon strongly rejected the “event center” label that opponents have applied to recent winery projects. Wineries can have marketing events, she said, but they can’t rent out their facilities to outside parties for full-scale events.
She said the winery business model has shifted toward direct sales, “and some people are refusing to accept that.” She said that when it comes to tourists, wineries are primarily interested in quality (i.e. attracting the right kind of tourist who’s ready to spend a lot of money) rather than quantity.
She also rejected the notion that drunk tourists are making our roads more dangerous. She asked for evidence that tourists have been causing DUI accidents.
That call for evidence (a bias toward facts, you might say) is especially refreshing in today’s political climate, where elected officials are under pressure to vote based on fear, emotion, popular perceptions, and sometimes erroneous data.
Dillon told us she’s planning to run for re-election in 2018. As we’ve said in the past, we’re always open to new candidates, but any challengers for the 3rd District would be going up against a strong record.