We strongly urge St. Helenans to re-elect Mayor Alan Galbraith because of his grounded, fact-based leadership.
We interviewed Galbraith and his challenger, City Councilmember Geoff Ellsworth, asking each candidate similar questions and looking for signs of meaningful experience, fact-based decision-making, and strong command of specific issues.
Galbraith and Ellsworth have each grown during their time on the council.
Ellsworth was more focused and displayed a greater command of the facts than when we first met him in 2016.
Galbraith seemed reinvigorated after fending off the recall attempt, coming off as more relaxed and more enthusiastic about being mayor than we’ve ever seen him, while remaining just as knowledgeable and detail-oriented as ever.
When asked about his greatest accomplishment on the council, Ellsworth mentioned the newest round of water and sewer studies, which he admitted was a team effort he shared with the rest of the council.
Galbraith said the council accomplishes things in a collegial way, but one accomplishment where his involvement was more direct was the passage of the Measure D sales tax, which generated $1.6 million in city revenue last year. Galbraith donated his own money and coordinated and campaigned heavily to pass the measure. That’s an example of individual leadership that made St. Helena stronger.
At a time when downtown businesses are struggling, Galbraith noted that he voted for the Ladera tasting room to replace the former Tamber Bey tasting room on Adams Street, on the grounds that it would continue a use that already proved to be sustainable. Ellsworth cast a crucial vote against it, resulting in one more vacant space downtown.
Ellsworth tends to think in terms of how we would like St. Helena to be, while Galbraith sees it as it is. For example, Galbraith says high water rates are unavoidable for a small system like St. Helena’s that has little economy of scale. Ellsworth’s promise of lower rates seems rooted in wishful thinking that may or may not prove to be realistic.
Ellsworth’s skepticism toward the Las Alcobas hotel using the Seventh-day Adventist Church parking lot is another example of his tendency to re-litigate previous decisions.
We prefer Galbraith’s process-oriented approach to governance: Identify a problem, analyze it, reach consensus on a solution, and move on. Ellsworth raises good points about making council meetings more welcoming and less intimidating, but there’s no denying that Galbraith’s by-the-book methods have produced results.
Water is the centerpiece of Ellsworth’s campaign, and he’s done a commendable job learning about the city’s water system and consulting with other agencies and elected officials to gain a regional perspective.
However, water happens to be Galbraith’s strong suit going back to his work on the Safe Yield Committee and the Groundwater Resources Advisory Committee. He knows more about St. Helena’s water and sewer systems that anyone outside the Public Works Department.
They disagree on water rate policy, with Ellsworth insisting that the city could legally justify a tiered rate structure and higher rates for industrial users outside the city limits. He hopes the new studies will prove him right. Galbraith disagrees based on the findings of the city’s previous consultant, and worries that charging different rates around the city would be divisive. He says the proper way to help the most vulnerable customers is with subsidies from the General Fund.
Galbraith has a pragmatic approach to governance, aiming to build a new City Hall, revitalize downtown businesses, build workforce housing, and improve the city’s water and wastewater systems.
Ellsworth shares many of those same goals, but Galbraith’s ideas seem more grounded in reality.
Neither candidate stands out as a bold visionary, but that’s OK. To paraphrase Galbraith, we can dream all we want, but we’re never going to achieve our vision if we’re not financially sustainable. In four years under his leadership, St. Helena’s financial footing has improved dramatically.
Our board unanimously agrees that Alan Galbraith is a proven leader who has earned another term as mayor of St. Helena.
The Star editorial board consists of editors David Stoneberg and Sean Scully and community volunteers Norma Ferriz, Christopher Hill, Shannon Kuleto, Bonnie Long, Peter McCrea, Gail Showley and Dave Yewell.