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Gallagher, Cottrell bring their perspectives to the Napa County Board of Supervisors

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Joelle Gallagher and Anne Cottrell will give the Napa County Board of Supervisors a new look come January.

But how new of a look? What will be different in a world-famous wine country filled with contentious battles, ranging from how much winery visitor and vineyard growth to allow to where to put affordable housing?

With almost all of the votes counted in the Nov. 8 election, Gallagher and Cottrell hold commanding leads over their opponents. Both are seeming locks to win and come aboard the board.

Gallagher described a possible change to Napa County's leadership approach. She perceives the county as having a hierarchical model. She favors a shared leadership structure that gives county staff and the community more of a voice. 

She noted the county Board of Supervisors next year will be looking for a new county executive officer.

“I think with hiring a new CEO, we have an opportunity to in my mind go in a new direction," Gallagher said.

She also noted the county will be updating its general plan, which states the county's policies on everything from agricultural preservation to winery growth to housing to safety.

Gallagher wants to use the "health in all policies" approach. This approach puts the health and well being of people in the community "front and center" and seeks to avoid unintended consequences, such as creating inequities, she said.

Cottrell mentioned focusing on such issues as wildfire prevention, water and housing.

“Those are the kind of things I’m thinking about, not some substantive, big seismic shift,” Cottrell said. “I don’t think anyone who was voting in this election was looking for that.”

There are hopes in some quarters for at least some changes. Napa Vision 2050 is a coalition of environmental and community groups. It has at times accused the county of putting wine industry interests ahead of the welfare of residents and the environment.

Eve Kahn, vice president of Vision 2050, said she doesn’t expect Gallagher and Cottrell to always magically vote the group’s way. Vision 2050 endorsed Gallagher.

“Maybe there’s a little bit more balance now between the environment and wine industry and housing,” Kahn said. “It’s going to be a very interesting time. The most realistic thing is they know us, we’ve sat in front of them, we’ve talked to them before, we’re not strangers.”

By contrast, the Napa County Farm Bureau has voiced concerns about a “vocal minority” in the community that opposes agricultural projects. It supported the opponents of Gallagher and Cottrell.

Farm Bureau CEO Ryan Klobas said this is a defining moment for Napa Valley agriculture.

“I have worked with Anne and Joelle in the past and have had good working relations with them," Klobas said. "I think we need to wait and see exactly what type of policies they may begin to support or oppose."

Part of the Farm Bureau's job is not only to advocate for agriculture, but to help supervisors understand how their policies affect agricultural businesses and families, he said.

Meet the new supervisors-to-be

Gallagher is executive director of First 5 Napa County and a county planning commissioner. She has been executive director of Cope Family Center and, from 1996 to 2001, of the Napa County Farm Bureau and Napa Valley Grapegrowers association.

She was born in Sonoma and attended Justin-Siena High School in north Napa. She moved to Napa in 1992 when her daughter was 6 months old because she had family here.

“I’ve been advocating for working families, living wage, all these issues frankly for decades,” she said.

The county has historically been on the right track in preserving agricultural land and for the most part in preserving resources, Gallagher said. She praised those who fought in 1968 to form the agricultural preserve.

“What I think people are concerned about now is, what can we handle in terms of any kind of development when it comes to sustainability?” she said. “Not just environmental sustainability, but sustainability of our work force, the sustainability of our wine industry.”

Gallagher has been on the county Planning Commission since February 2017. She has usually voted with the commission majority, but not always.

For example, in 2017 she was on the short end of a 3-1 Planning Commission vote that allowed The Caves at Soda Canyon to double its wine production. She sided with residents who said narrow Soda Canyon Road couldn’t safely handle more truck traffic.

“I don’t see how we, in good conscience, can just continue to exacerbate the problems of this road,” she said at the hearing.

And this past January, she cast the dissenting vote in the 4-1 decision to allow Far Niente winery's expansion. She praised the winery, but disliked seeing 6 million gallons of water annually used there not for agriculture, but for landscaping.

“I just want to take that principled stand, basically,” Gallagher said at the hearing. “Because that is a huge amount of water. In fact, the most water on site is going for landscaping, which is not ag. That’s my sticking point.”

Gallagher also brought up the water issue when the Planning Commission in September 2021 decided that the Fleming winery couldn’t have more visitors amid the California drought because of well water concerns in that particular area.

“We know we are in a water crisis and that we will continue to be in a water crisis,” Gallagher said. “So I think we have to start looking at everything from that point of view.”

Cottrell was born and raised in St. Helena after her parents moved there in 1969 to make wine. She worked for the Oregon attorney general, returned to Napa County and is a Napa County planning commissioner.

She talked of her history in Napa County and the importance of remembering how the wine industry and county have evolved. People shouldn’t take today’s situation for granted, she said.

“It’s important we have a successful set of industries so that we’ve got employment for our residents,” Cottrell said. “But we also need to make sure we have a balance between the needs of our industry and our natural resources and our agricultural resources.”

Cottrell has been on the Planning Commission since the end of 2014. Like Gallagher, she usually votes with the majority. But like Gallagher, she’s lodged some dissenting votes on some controversial proposals.

One came in November 2015, when the commission approved the expansion of Syar quarry near the city of Napa by a 3-2 vote. Cottrell voted no because she favored smaller expansion with a bigger buffer between the quarry and Skyline Wilderness Park.

Cottrell was on the short end of a 3-2 vote in September 2020 approving a Benjamin Ranch winery able to produce 475,000 gallons of wine annually and host 87,000 guests a year. She favored less production and fewer visitors.

She called the Napa Valley floor site “a great location for wine production activity,” but said traffic issues in the Benjamin winery case were a “real site constraint.”

Cottrell, unlike Gallagher, this past January voted in favor of the Far Niente changes. She liked that water use would decrease and liked a proposed road realignment to improve traffic circulation and safety.

“The location on the valley floor, the solar array, the organic vineyard, the Napa Green certification — those are all meaningful to me,” she said.

Come January, Cottrell and Gallagher will bring their viewpoints on such issues to the Board of Supervisors. Moreover, instead of interpreting and carrying out county policies, they will be helping to shape them.

The bigger picture

Gallagher and Cottrell will join county Supervisors Ryan Gregory, Alfredo Pedroza and Belia Ramos on the five-person board. They will replace long-time Supervisors Diane Dillon and Brad Wagenknecht, who didn’t run for reelection.

Dillon endorsed Cottrell as her successor for the 3rd District seat. Wagenknecht endorsed Gallagher to take over the 1st District seat.

Board of Supervisors chairperson Gregory, recalling his own experience after first being elected in 2016, said there’s a learning curve to joining the board.

“It takes several months to get your legs under you,” he said. “There’s a lot to learn. Thankfully, (Gallagher and Cottrell) have been on the Planning Commission and at least know how meetings work and know how the land-use piece of our jobs work.”

Among other things, supervisors represent the county on 37 local and regional commissions and agencies, with the board divvying up various positions. For example, Dillon represented the county on the Rural County Representatives of California and Wagenknecht on the Bay Area Air Quality Management District.

But Dillon and Wagenknecht will be gone from the Board of Supervisors come January and no longer hold those key assignments. There will be a reshuffling of duties.

“It will be a bigger transition for all of us….In my view, it’s going to expose each of us to something new and different and hopefully be invigorating,” Gregory said.

It’s a right place, right time sort of cosmic accident.

You can reach Barry Eberling at 707-256-2253 or beberling@napanews.com

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Napa County Reporter

Barry Eberling covers Napa County government, transportation, the environment and general assignments. He has worked for the Napa Valley Register since fall 2014 and previously worked 27 years for the Daily Republic of Fairfield.

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