I find it intriguing reading the dialogue between the two St. Helena camps in the Star, “we are a “small town!”, and those financially concerned, our “small town is in the dumps.” Having grown up in small towns long before moving to St. Helena (yes, you may hold it against me that I am not Napa Valley multigenerational) on the other hand, perhaps I bring a different small-town experience to the table.

My grandfather and father were storekeepers and postmasters for a town of 200, maybe one could consider that small. They sold groceries to the other 194 residents and the surrounding dairy farm families. The local Grange and church were the social focuses of the community. There was one store, one garage with a gas pump, a church, and a two-room schoolhouse with two, two-hole outhouses. Small, yes, close knit, yes, they were a community.

As an adolescent, let’s call it high school, we lived in another small town, 2,500 people. There were an equal number of churches and bars. Mom taught in the high school. Step-dad raised cows on a “small” ranch. He bagged sugar at the local sugar beet factory during the winter to help make ends meet.

The town had a Safeway with four flavors of ice cream, chocolate, strawberry, vanilla, and hold your breath, Neapolitan. Are you getting the picture of what “small towns” really are? Oh yes, we had two gas stations, a couple of car dealerships, a pharmacy, hardware and western ware stores. Yes, there were tourists going to the Little Big Horn National Battlefield. If you wanted a good steak, you cooked it at home or went to the 4-Aces. We did have an A&W and Dairy Queen. Grain elevators along the railroad graced the skyline.

This perspective brings me to the notion the St. Helena is a “small town.” First, a small town could not support a Safeway, Sunshine Foods and a Dean & Deluca within a mile of each other. A small town could not support the world-class resorts and hotels in and around St. Helena. A small town would never be able to offer the diversity of exceptional cuisine from our friends at Villa Corona to Meadowood. A small town could not spend four times the national average per student in its local school district.

What I perceive of the “small towners” of St Helen is NIMBY, not in my backyard. St. Helena as a “small town” that exists because it is proscribed by a limited boundary. It lies in the heart of an internationally recognized location for wine and tourism. If it weren’t for these industries, St. Helena would be a small town, growing walnuts, prunes and raising pigs and chickens to get by and not having world class amenities, which enhance our daily lives. Let’s be honest, those of you who profess to be small town St. Helena, do you not go to Cindy’s, Terra or Press on special occasions?

From what I understand of earlier general planning for the city property, the community wanted to build a community center, civic offices and other community related buildings on the vineyard. Interesting, since it would eliminate what is now deemed “sacred” open space and vineyard. Yet, there are members of the community who have offered alternatives to development of the land, help the fiscally strapped city. What I see is no interest in common ground (maybe the pun was intended).

We are a community, from my “small town” perspective, that needs to come together and tackle these issues head on. Forget the name calling, the us versus them, we are the community of St. Helena, which is really an element of the metapopulation of the Napa Valley. Look it up, one part of the population dies without the other.

Judd A. Howell, PhD

UC Berkeley, Environmental Science, Policy and Management ‘93

Scientist Emeritus, USGS (GS-15 retired)

St. Helena