The St. Helena City Council has appointed Planning Commissioner David Knudsen to the vacant seat on the council formerly held by Mayor Geoff Ellsworth.
Knudsen, Lester Hardy, and Erica Sklar applied for the vacancy. The council interviewed all three on Tuesday before voting 4-0 to appoint Knudsen, who was immediately sworn in.
Knudsen is a software developer who also has experience in finance and economics. Hardy is a lawyer who served on the council from 1990 to 1994 and currently chairs the Planning Commission. Sklar is an affordable housing and land use consultant who conducted a housing study for the city last year.
In his interview, Knudsen said he envisions a “full-spectrum community” with housing that’s affordable for multiple income levels, more accessible open space and walking trails, and strong community-building recreational activities like bocce, tennis, and last month’s ice rink.
“I want to have low-income folks. I’d like to have moderate-income folks. I want to have middle-class people,” he said. “I don’t want this town to be ghettoized by all these second homes and only wealthy folks that can afford to live here.”
Knudsen is a native of Boulder, Colorado who moved to St. Helena from San Francisco 12 years ago. He and his wife, design writer/editor Sarah Lonsdale, have two children, one attending Napa Valley College and another attending New Technology High School in Napa.
Knudsen, who was appointed to the Planning Commission in 2017, said he considers himself “an analytical person” and an “option generator.”
Councilmembers praised all three applicants and said that while Hardy was the most qualified, his extensive knowledge of zoning, planning and technical matters makes him ideal for the Planning Commission, which will be responsible this year for a major overhaul of the city’s zoning ordinances.
Councilmember Mary Koberstein said Knudsen impressed her at his very first meeting as a planning commissioner.
“It was an incredibly controversial issue, and he didn’t jump right in,” she said. “He listened, he did his homework … and I thought he was very well-reasoned in the end and also very respectful to all of the viewpoints.”
Koberstein added that Sklar would be a “fantastic” addition to the Planning Commission if she chooses to apply for Knudsen’s now-vacant seat.