Editor’s note: The St. Helena Star is a sibling paper to the Weekly Calistogan.
Diane Dillon is the kind of politician who’s willing and able to lobby for her constituents in Washington, D.C., chair an important government agency in Napa, and then chat with you and your neighbors about whatever’s on your mind.
We mean that literally – as our meeting with Dillon wrapped up on Friday, she said that if a neighborhood group wants to talk, she’s happy to sit on someone’s patio and have a genial conversation.
And there’s sure plenty to talk about. Our conversation with Dillon started with the aftermath of Measure Y’s defeat and eventually touched on issues affecting Angwin, Calistoga, Lake Berryessa and, of course, St. Helena.
Let’s start with Measure Y, which we endorsed and unfortunately appears to have failed, getting only 44 percent of the vote in early returns (it needs 50 percent plus one). Without a quarter-cent sales tax to guarantee bonds for a new jail, the county is in a difficult position.
The county can continue to sock away money for the project. But even if the county receives up to $20 million in earthquake relief funds from the state, it will still be far short of the $103 million it needs for the new jail. Meanwhile, the cost of housing Napa County inmates in Solano County is going up.
One option is to go back to voters in November with a straightforward “bricks and bars” special tax specifically allocated for the jail. That would require a two-thirds vote, but it might be an easier sell to skeptical voters who are looking for a clear, legally binding commitment that the money won’t be redirected somewhere else.
However, a November tax measure would likely compete with St. Helena’s half-cent sales tax and the county Parks and Open Space District’s quarter-cent sales tax. With three tax measures on the ballot, there’s a good chance that fed-up voters would select “None of the Above.”
Of course, taxes aren’t the only matter on Dillon’s docket. As chair of the Local Agency Formation Commission, she will play a key role in deciding whether St. Helena will be able to annex Meadowood.
A study is underway, and Dillon didn’t share her personal feelings about annexation. But in the past she’s told us that Meadowood is a significant source of revenue that the county won’t relinquish without a fight, or at least a political compromise.
One topic that might not be on St. Helena’s radar yet, but should be, is the future of the Napa County Fairgrounds in Calistoga. With the loss of state funding several years ago, the fairgrounds continues to reinvent itself. The Napa Expo faced the same funding loss, and that’s why it’s the site of the successful BottleRock festival.
In Calistoga, the Mount St. Helena Golf Course and the racetrack each have their vocal supporters, but Dillon is thinking more broadly. She wants the whole Upvalley, from Yountville to Pope Valley, to start thinking of the fairgrounds as a site for major events. Expect her to promulgate that idea at a special Board of Supervisors meeting to be held in Calistoga in the next few months.
Dillon and her fellow supervisors are also looking at taking over the management of Lake Berryessa’s concessions, which have shamefully languished under the federal Bureau of Reclamation (BOR).
If the county can cut through the red tape, it would have a lot more latitude to get something done there than the BOR, which is a massive, inflexible bureaucracy. Under the county’s control, Berryessa could become an even bigger success story than Bothe-Napa Valley State Park, which has thrived since the state started contracting with the county’s Parks and Open Space District.
Our discussion also touched on Blakeley Construction, a local-serving Calistoga business with a record of strong community involvement, being forced to move its heavy equipment off of an ag-zoned parcel where it’s been operating for more than five decades. Code enforcement is always a touchy subject, and Dillon acknowledged that many Calistogans who support the business don’t feel like they’ve been heard.
Dillon’s District 3 covers a lot of territory – we haven’t even mentioned Angwin, where Dillon said folks are concerned about timber harvesting and Pacific Union College putting some of its land on the market.
Friday’s meeting reminded us that Dillon, with her commitment to transparency, legal background, political experience and fierce intelligence, is an ideal representative for such a diverse district. She told us she’ll run for another term in 2018, and it’s hard to imagine another candidate stepping up who could match her credentials.
And feel free to take her up on her offer of a neighborhood chat. You’ll be surprised at how much you’ll learn – and how carefully she’ll listen.