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At last! Democracy prevails! Residents of Vineyard Valley as well as those registered in the City of St. Helena will be allowed to vote on their preference for or against the Rent Stabilization Ordinance recently passed by the city council. The ordinance applies only to Vineyard Valley.

After submitting 150 signatures from the park opposing the ordinance in a letter to the city council dated Sept. 18, 2018, we were told that the issue was not a referendum, meaning there would not be a vote by residents. The city proceeded to pass the ordinance in November 2018. (Many residents did not want to sign the letter as they didn’t want to add to the divisiveness occurring in the park over the issue.)

It was decided by those opposing the ordinance to get a legally appropriate referendum to put on the ballot in an upcoming election. Volunteers collected signatures in the park and a grant was used to pay signature collectors in the city. A total of 579 signatures were legally and easily collected in roughly a week’s time just prior to the holidays in opposition to the measure, well over the 10 percent required for such a referendum.

Those of us opposed to this ordinance are satisfied and content with the owners’ business model, which has remained stable since their purchase of the property in 1975. Rent increases have held steady at 3 percent annually over the same period of time. The property is well maintained and beautifully landscaped. We have helpful, productive relationships with the owners, workers, and staff. The owners are willing to work quietly and confidentially with any resident in financial difficulty. We feel most fortunate to live here. To our eyes we already have a form of rent control. The ordinance would add nothing new nor would it save residents money as yearly rates would be determined by 100 percent of the Bay Area CPI (currently at 4.6 percent) or 3 percent, whichever is less.

Those supporting the ordinance echo a song that has been sung in the park since the 1995 flood titled, “The owner is going to sell and the new owner will either kick us out or raise our rents astronomically!” So much chronic fear despite not a shred of evidence to support it and the owners’ repeated assurances that they have no intention of selling. Those supporting the ordinance have aligned themselves with council members who are now impervious to any viewpoint other than they are doing a good deed in protecting senior rights to affordable housing, and know what is best for us despite what we say: That we don’t need their protection for this unique and well established community, and we prefer to operate on trust and faith rather than fear.

At the last city council meeting on Feb. 12, the council had three options for holding a vote on the referendum: 1) A Special Election at a taxpayer cost of about $30,000, 2) add the referendum to the Primary Election a year from this March at a cost between $10,000 and $15,000, or 3) wait until the General Election in November 2020, at a cost between $7,500 and $12,000.

Although I proposed choosing one of the last two options both for financial considerations and providing park residents with an opportunity for reflection, all council members chose the first option, “to get this done as soon as possible!”

June 4 is the tentative date for this special election. Very disappointing to this thrifty taxpayer and many I have talked to about this latest decision. St. Helena has approximately 3,500 registered voters in total which means the city (we taxpayers) will pay about $100/voter, or even more depending on turnout. Is that really how we want to spend our money?

Some Vineyard Valley residents are considering various options for bringing our beloved community together again, that will bring healing on this issue, which turned divisive early on, often disturbing long-term friendships.

In the opinion of several of us, we think it may be of value to work with an independent, professional facilitator to address the process that brought us to this impasse, what we can learn from it, and perhaps learning some skills around conflict management and conflict resolution that would improve our process on the inevitable sticky issues in the future.

In other words, how do we want to live as a community, where there is certain to be different opinions and agendas, often passionately held? Recent research demonstrates that cooperative, collaborative communities survive far longer than those that are competitive and contentious, debunking Darwin’s theory of “Survival of the Fittest,” at least for human beings, which I found both fascinating and instructive.

Suzanne James

Vineyard Valley resident

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