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Supervisor Ryan Gregory grabbed the gavel as 2019 Napa County Board of Supervisors chairman and described looming issues such as possible tensions between California’s house-building drive and local agricultural preservation policies.

The election of Gregory to the 2019 chair position by his colleagues on Tuesday held absolutely no suspense. The Board of Supervisors rotates the position among the five members each year and it was Gregory’s turn.

“This is not a secret,” 2018 chairman Brad Wagenknecht said with a smile before the Board vote that made Gregory’s appointment official. Supervisor Diane Dillon is the 2019 vice chairwoman.

As is traditional, the new chairman talked about issues he sees as important. He focused on the economy, the quality of life and the environment.

Quality of life

Gregory mentioned possible changes in state housing policies that could affect agriculture-protecting Napa County.

California assigns housing growth numbers to regions, which trickles down to specific numbers for different cities. Gregory said the next Napa County housing number assignment in 2022 might be much higher than what the county has seen for previous eight-year cycles.

“But you’d say, ‘We’re special, right? Those don’t apply to us. We’re Napa. We have an ag preserve,’” Gregory said. “There seems to be a little less sympathy for our position as an ag preserve.”

Gov. Gavin Newsom wants 3.5 million houses built in the state by 2025. The Legislature tends toward one-size-fits-all laws that don’t fit Napa County. Despite the agricultural preserve, the county is going to be asked to participate in California’s growth and the Bay Area’s growth, Gregory said.

That means Napa County must be even more creative than it has been in finding ways to meet state-imposed housing mandates, he said.

“We’re going to need regional cooperation with the cities on a multi-year effort,” Gregory said. “And we need to start soon and not wait too long.”

Also on the quality-of-life front, Gregory wants to see more things to do in Napa County for families and children.

“You can have as much food and wine as you want, but what else is there?” he said.

He wants more hiking trails, such as trails in Moore Creek park near Lake Hennessey. He wants more local segments of the Bay Area Ridge Trail. He wants the Napa Valley Vine Trail bike-and-walking path to continue growing toward its goal of someday linking Vallejo and Calistoga.

Gregory turned to Skyline Wilderness Park, the 850 acres with trails in the hills east of the city of Napa. The land is owned by the state and is leased by the county, with the park run by the volunteer Skyline Park Citizens Association.

“We’ve got to buy Skyline Park – finally,” Gregory said. “With this new governor, we see an opportunity. We are pursuing legislation that will enable us to negotiate to buy Skyline Park.”

Gregory said Napa County’s economy is strong yet vulnerable.

“Our economy is the envy of many other counties out there,” he said. “We did this by building a world-class wine region, starting many, many years ago. And we did this, miraculously, without having to urbanize our unincorporated area.”

But the agricultural preserve that contributes to Napa County’s economy also limits revenue-generating growth. Meanwhile, costs are increasing, state and federal funding could decrease and an economic slowdown could begin this year, he said.

“What that tells us is, we need to protect what we do have and ensure the success of this economy and our successful industries in the decisions we make this year,” Gregory said.

The environment

Gregory wants the county to complete its climate action plan. The draft plans lists specific steps to be taken to reduce greenhouse gases.

Water is another concern. Napa County has good aquifers and surface water, but can’t take these things for granted, Gregory said.

“Thank you very much for the honor,” Gregory said as he wrapped up his speech. “And let’s get started.”

Wagenknecht gave a short speech before relinquishing his 2018 chair position.

He mentioned losses during 2018, such as those killed at the Veterans Home of California at Yountville shooting and the death of Alaina Housley in a Southern California shooting. Other losses didn’t involve violence, such as the death of Wagenknecht’s mother.

“Take a moment with me to go to your heart,” Wagenknecht said. “Think about the people you’ve lost. Think about the people that we’ve lost to this violence. Rededicate yourselves. We move forward on the shoulders of giants.”

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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.