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Napa Valley College

NAPA — A month before Election Day, five candidates made their cases to voters for the right to help guide Napa Valley College over the next four years.

A candidates’ night last Thursday at NVC brought together trustees Amy Martenson, Kyle Iverson and Mary Ann Mancuso, who represent three of the community college’s seven Napa County districts and are facing competitors on the Nov. 6 ballot. Also speaking were Beth Goff, an American Canyon High School teacher running for Mancuso’s seat in Area 3, and Xulio Soriano, a community organizer who is matched against Area 4 incumbent Iverson.

Organized by the League of Women Voters of Napa County, the forum at the NVC library was the first of two candidate showcases on campus on consecutive nights, with a debate planned for Friday by the Associated Students of Napa Valley College.

Taking questions from an audience of about 50 people, board candidates laid out their achievements in NVC’s service – or the changes they hope to spark.

Goff told voters to expect from her the perspective of a longtime educator with years of community service in American Canyon, where she has been a parks commissioner and Chamber of Commerce board member. “I have no political connections at all, and I’m not political at all, because I don’t think this position should be political,” she said.

Among the questions posed by spectators Thursday, how NVC should expand the scope of its Napa campus – and especially whether to find a private development partner or go it alone – proved one of the sharpest dividing lines among the candidates.

Board members Mancuso and Iverson backed the idea of using public-private partnerships for possible additions such as a “student village” of on-campus housing and retail, or a rail service center for the Napa Valley Wine Train that also could provide technical and hospitality training.

Mancuso expressed support for such deals “in the right situations” and with fair labor practices, while Iverson argued that putting a developer in charge of fundraising will spare NVC officials from the whim of county voters who otherwise would control the fate of bonds.

“It can help us for not having to be the person who’s running the business,” said Mancuso. “We don’t have to be the landlord; we don’t have to be the coffeeshop manager.”

However, such partnerships drew pushback from Martenson – who in board discussions has criticized applying the idea to campus housing – as well as Goff, who was wary of sticking students with higher fees they said private-sector builders could charge to make back their investment.

“If Napa Valley College builds housing using a revenue bond instead of a private partner, every single bit of rent can go to pay off that financing,” replied Goff. “If you put a private partner in there, not only will it be more expensive in the long run, they have a motivation to make money – and that means our students will pay more in rent to not only cover the bond but also to make profits for the private entity. At this point, I’m not really sold on it.”

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City of Napa/Town of Yountville Reporter

Howard Yune covers the city of Napa and the town of Yountville. He has been a reporter and photographer for the Register since 2011, and previously wrote for the Marysville Appeal-Democrat, Anaheim Bulletin and Coos Bay (Oregon) World.