This is the first in a series of interviews of Napa City Council candidates for the Nov. 6 election.

The family of Liz Alessio has lived in the Napa Valley for some 140 years – but the next few years may determine whether many of her fellow residents can still consider it home, according to the City Council candidate.

As Napa’s hotels, wine tasting rooms and restaurants have attracted increasing numbers of visitors and become a bedrock of its economy, hospitality workers – and many others – have struggled to find housing close by as rents and sale prices have soared, and vacancies have plunged to 1 percent.

In pursuing one of the two council seats in play for the Nov. 6 election, Alessio declares housing – especially the kinds affordable to Napa’s rank-and-file workers – the key to preserving what she calls her hometown’s unique sense of neighborly spirit. With council members poised to help craft a new General Plan to guide the zoning of homes and business for the next two decades, she said, the task is as crucial as ever.

“What I’m really concerned about is that we sustain a sense of community here; that’s at risk,” she said in a interview Monday. “We have more teachers, more public safety, tourism, ag and government workers, people in all industries who are not able to live and work here, to be near their children. There’s a real separation from the bedrock of the community. Decisions being made by the City Council for the General Plan are going to define who we are.

“At the end of this, I want us to be able to preserve our community.”

The 52-year-old Alessio, a coordinator of senior community program services for Queen of the Valley Medical Center, is one of five challengers in the Napa council race competing against the three-term incumbent Peter Mott. At least one challenger will join the council by taking over the seat held by Jim Krider, who was appointed in last November but declined to seek a full four-year term.

Whoever is elected to the council this fall will have a hand in redrawing Napa’s General Plan, the guidebook for what kinds of development are allowed and in which areas. Alessio called that task an opportunity to pursue a raft of housing-friendly policies such as an overhaul of residential zoning – especially in the increasingly tourism-based downtown core – along with cooperation between the city and Napa County to reuse surplus government lands for home construction, and a streamlined review and permit process to reduce time and cost for would-be builders.

Furthermore, Alessio argued, Napa should partner with builders to create affordable housing in proportion to the number of people expected to staff new developments in the city. The number of residences to be built would be based on a study that would set a sliding scale based on project size, she said.

In addition to fostering more home construction, Alessio has come out strongly for reviving Napa’s former “inclusionary” ordinance that required developers to offer 10 percent of the units in new multi-family housing complexes below market-level rents. A 2009 court case effectively banned such quotas as an illegal form of rent control – which in California can be enforced only on dwellings built before 1995 – but the state Legislature passed Assembly Bill 1505 last year allowing cities to revive such set-asides.

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Alessio called for Napa to set an even higher bar and reserve 20 percent of such apartments for families making less than the city’s median income – even though the new state law requires cities setting their affordable minimum above 15 percent to prove a stricter requirement will not depress the local housing construction market.

Meanwhile, another construction project has left Alessio much more wary – Napa’s proposal to centralize city offices and the police department into a four-story downtown civic center on First Street.

Alessio has questioned the cost and complexity of the project, which has been estimated to require about $121 million, including the expense of temporary office space during about two years of construction. More troubling is a lack of outreach to citizens and city workers about the need for a new headquarters, she said, pointing to opposition from the Napa Police Officers Association.

“I would like an opportunity for people to have a better understanding of the civic center,” she said. “There hasn’t been enough transparency with the public, which is why there’s been pushback.”

Alessio, who in a candidates’ forum Sept. 11 advocated a pause to planning the civic center, supported rethinking the project to better take city workers’ needs into account.

“I’m apprehensive about this project and I’ve been vocal about that,” she said this week. “We can do this in stages and present another idea that can be better in the long term.”

A latecomer in California to legalizing marijuana sales, Napa finally passed an ordinance in 2017 to allow for dispensaries selling medicinal cannabis products. Alessio, however, called for caution in moving toward the next step of welcoming sales of non-medical marijuana, citing resistance from the Napa police union.

Above all, Alessio promised to push for policies she said would give those living in Napa equal priority with those who visit.

“We have a wonderful community and it’s a gem, but we need a balanced approach that values Napa residents – and that’s ultimately why I stepped up at this time.”

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City of Napa/Town of Yountville Reporter

Howard Yune covers the city of Napa and the town of Yountville. He has been a reporter and photographer for the Register since 2011, and previously wrote for the Marysville Appeal-Democrat, Anaheim Bulletin and Coos Bay (Oregon) World.