After 45 years of sometimes bitter experience watching politics play out here, I’ve got a good fix on who’s been protective of our best interests in city government and who’s in it to benefit himself and his friends. For example, I’m looking at a copy of a letter I wrote to Mayor Otty Hayne in May 1990 decrying the terrible downstream damage being done by irresponsible hillside vineyard development. It reads, in part:
“I am sending a copy of this letter to Council Member Lester Hardy for his special consideration. I supported Mr. Hardy in his effort to become a member of city government. He presented himself as a concerned person and used his affiliation with the 20/20 Ag Lands Initiative to appear concerned with the quality of our rural environment. But he has made statements recently which appear to be completely out of touch with his constituents regarding protecting our fragile hillsides. For example, he was quoted in a recent Napa Register article as basically saying he’d never met a vineyard he didn’t like and that he was against restrictions on vineyard development in the hillside watershed area. I certainly would not have supported Mr. Hardy if I had understood his real views on this vital issue. I do not think he would have been elected if others knew his bias toward watershed destruction.”
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In the 30 years since I wrote that letter, the enormity of damage to our watersheds and the situation of our reservoirs that’s been caused by uncontrolled runoff and eroding topsoil from hillside vineyards during winter storms is painfully obvious. For example, Bell Canyon Reservoir lost a quarter of its capacity awhile back when the Viader family scraped a hillside clean for grapes and a huge chunk of their property collapsed and washed into the canyon that winter. As a result, the city is struggling to find enough water to maintain our quality of life, and I suspect the town’s water shortage problems are even worse than we’ve been told. And now once again Lester Hardy can hardly wait to champion the “rights” of “individuals”: AKA his rich vineyard buddies in the hills, who want him to help get rid of existing environmental restrictions and give them a permanent green light to carry out the worst kind of destructive behavior, and good luck to all the “non-individuals” like you and me down below. His supporters praise Mr. Hardy’s civic involvements and good for him, but from what I can see, they’re nothing but a chameleon’s self-serving camouflage. The truth is: I’m fond of skunks and raised three orphaned babies when I was a boy, but let’s be blunt – no matter how many times you dunk a skunk in cologne, it is what it is.
And then there’s Mary Koberstein: Hardy’s alter ego – a case of Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dee. It’s no wonder that, driving through town, you often see their campaign signs planted side by side. Their mutual objective is to continue the county’s effort to transform us from a slice of heaven where status is irrelevant into an exclusionary haven for the rich and privileged. While Hardy focuses on allowing continued deforestation of the hills, further depleting our water supply, Koberstein is busy supporting the cause of expanded development down below, spinning a remarkable fable that there’s no need to worry because, under her mayoral guidance, there will be plenty for everyone when we magically transform all the new income from housing and wealthy tourists’ dollars and make water out of wine. This is delusional thinking.
There are two people running on a single ticket for mayor and city council that I can personally vouch are not seeking to monetize the town’s famous moniker and use their positions for personal gain. They are Geoff Ellsworth and Leslie Stanton. Geoff is so honest it almost hurts, and the Stanton family’s longstanding commitment to protect and preserve what made St. Helena such a desirable place to live is known to everyone who’s dealt with them. But they’ll need an ally of equally strong convictions to form a council majority that can move a citizen-oriented agenda forward. That person is Council Member David Knudsen, who fought doggedly and successfully to assure Measure G was placed on the ballot. Measure G requires that we the people who live and vote here will decide what happens to the city-owned open space on the proposed Adams Street extension, and not hand it over to a pack of voracious developers.
We desperately need to elect real public servants who will work to maintain and when possible restore the good-neighbor values that still endure here and strive to protect our historic district with hits modest, middle-class homes. If we keep picking predators like Koberstein and Hardy, the vibrant heart of our community and all its charm will soon be torn down and replaced by huge structures that squat on those small lots like giant toads on a lily pad: monuments to their absentee owners’ giant egos. Meanwhile the working class and retired locals: the soul of our community, will be driven to the four winds. If you want to keep living here because you love St. Helena and don’t see us as a naïve sheep to be shorn, please support Measure G and vote for Ellsworth, Stanton and Knudsen. They’ll stand up for your small-town values.