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St. Helena mayoral hopeful Paul Dohring wants to unite the community

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After eight years on the St. Helena City Council, Vice Mayor Paul Dohring feels as prepared as anyone could ever be to serve as mayor.

Four other St. Helena mayors, past and present, agree. Dohring is endorsed by Mayor Geoff Ellsworth and former mayors Alan Galbraith, Ann Nevero and Frank Toller — four very different people who otherwise don't agree on much of anything.

Dohring says their support demonstrates his ability to unify different factions of the community.

“We need a leader who’s really focused on bringing us together, keeping us together, and moving forward together,” said Dohring, who practices law in Calistoga and once served on the Calistoga City Council. “I can do that based on my experience, temperament, and strong knowledge of our governing system.”

If elected, Dohring’s priorities would be water security, fire prevention and protection, and infrastructure improvement — all of which are connected to climate change, he said.

The Measure H bond, the SHAPE Committee, the Financing Civic Infrastructure Task Force and a utilities master plan “have primed us to move forward,” Dohring said.

“Unfortunately we’ve lost our focus and need to start executing the plans,” he said. “It’s going to take some time and it’s going to be costly. I think I can help rally the community around that effort.”

There are other important issues facing the city, like the general health and welfare of St. Helena residents, LGBTQ and diversity issues, and employee housing, Dohring said.

“We can juggle more than one ball at a time, but we have to focus primarily on water security, fire prevention and infrastructure improvement,” he said.

Dohring realizes how frustrated residents are with St. Helena’s bad roads and sidewalks, but he places a higher priority on the utilities buried underneath those surfaces.

“The first year we need to have a super-aggressive focus on all of our underground pipes, particularly stormwater pipes,” Dohring said. “If you don’t fix those first, it makes no sense to have brand-new pavement that’s going to be torn up within a year.”

He anticipates the city spending $5 to $8 million on underground utilities within the next two years. He’s concerned about the Public Works Department’s ability to execute those projects, but he said that falls within the purview of City Manager Anil Comelo, not the council.

Dohring said St. Helena’s financial challenges are similar to those of other small American cities, but that doesn’t mean they should be downplayed.

“We need to continue to focus on revenue production, as long as we’re able to maintain high quality of life,” he said. “That balance always has to be there.”

By relying on property tax, sales tax and hotel tax, St. Helena has a more balanced revenue portfolio than Yountville and Calistoga, which are more heavily weighted toward hotel tax. However, St. Helena has more than $100 million worth of work to do, and it needs a strategic plan to raise that money, Dohring said.

The current rate study is one piece of that puzzle. Dohring wants the new rates to reflect “generational equity” — in other words, the cost of projects with immediate and long-term benefits should be split fairly between today’s ratepayers and tomorrow’s.

Dohring said there’s “very little daylight” between him and his opponent, City Councilmember Eric Hall when it comes to the magnitude of St. Helena’s infrastructure challenges. The difference is more one of style.

“I’m concerned about a style of politics that’s almost bordering on fear-mongering,” Dohring said. “I never think that that is an effective way to bring people along. We need to be open about our issues, but also hopeful and optimistic that we can get these projects done.”

Dohring cited the passage of Measure H is an example of how city leaders can take a positive approach to educating the community and building consensus.

Dohring said he took a similar approach in working with Napa Valley College officials and former City Manager Mark Prestwich to lay the groundwork for the city’s lease of the Upvalley campus.

Dohring said his ability to build trust and bring people together is the result of 31 years living Upvalley.

“There are certain agrarian values that folks don’t notice until they are here for quite a long time,” Dohring said. “I live by those core values of helping your neighbor, being good to one another, having high integrity, and being trustworthy.”

“When you look at the bottom line all the time and don’t recognize those core values of the community, you lose sight of them. … The central reason that I’m running is to protect the soul of the community at all costs.”

Eight families helped build their new homes at St. Helena's Brenkle Court.

You can reach Jesse Duarte at (707) 967-6803 or jduarte@sthelenastar.com.

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