County Supervisor Alfredo Pedroza put himself before the firing line of a town hall meeting on Monday, and that led to some polite, but lively, exchanges on such issues as winery growth.
He held the meeting attended by about 40 people at McPherson Elementary School. Pedroza at the outset proclaimed himself ready to hear not only praise, but dissenting views.
“You guys challenging government will only lead to better decisions,” Pedroza told the crowd.
Resident Cynthia Grupp was among those who earlier this year appealed a Planning Commission approval of Mountain Peak Winery to the Board of Supervisors. The Board, including Pedroza, declined to stop the proposed winery.
Grupp said the neighbors brought forward experts who talked about the inadequacies of rural Soda Canyon Road, which the winery will use for access. Yet the Board listened to the applicant’s experts who said the road was O.K., she said.
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At a community growth forum in 2015, many residents said they wanted a moratorium on winery development and that hasn’t happened, Grupp said.
“When it comes to a decision between developers and residents of the community, it’s the developers who win out every time,” she told Pedroza.
Pedroza politely disagreed. He said that, though the Board sometimes hears from “dueling experts,” county staff is also composed of experts. County staff is supposed to help the Board.
County staff in the case of Mountain Peak Winery said Soda Canyon Road is adequate to serve the winery.
“As projects come forward, they are getting a very stringent vetting procedure,” Pedroza said. “Not every application is ‘yes.’ ”
In 2016 , the county approved nine wineries, but six potential wineries withdrew their applications, he said.
Grupp attributed some of these withdrawals to pressure from citizens.
Pedroza told Grupp he agrees Napa County needs to be sustainable. Where they differ is their philosophies on how to reach that goal, he added.
One resident said Vichy Elementary School is near vineyards. He wondered what effects spraying pesticides might have on students and cited high child cancer rates in Napa County.
Pedroza turned to county Agricultural Commissioner Greg Clark, who said the state in 2018 is likely to prohibit agricultural aerial and air blast spraying of pesticides within a quarter-mile of schools while school is in session.
Henni Cohen of the California Native Plant Society Napa Valley chapter said the group submitted comments on the Walt Ranch vineyard and Syar quarry expansion projects. She thought that the county brushed aside its concerns.
She also brought up the situation at Skyline Wilderness Park, where the group has a native plant garden. The county’s lease for the state-owned park property expires in 2030, leading to uncertainty about what will happen after that.
“I’d like to buy Skyline park so we can preserve it,” Pedroza said.
A county effort in 2016 to open negotiations with the state over Skyline park sputtered. The state wanted to first explore whether it might need more land for adjacent Napa State Hospital.
Pedroza spent the first 40 minutes or so of the evening sketching out his vision for Napa County. That included taking on the issues of traffic and tourism.
Sixty-six percent of visitors come only for the day, Pedroza said. They tend to come in the morning and leave in the evening, when Highway 29 and other local roads face rush-hour congestion.
Pedroza wants to entice them to stay overnight. Then they are less likely to add to rush-hour congestion and they would spend more tourism money, he said.
He made a strong pitch for building affordable housing so more local workers can live here and be involved in the community. Resident Harris Nussbaum expressed doubt the county can build its way out of the housing problem.
“We’re never going to build ourselves out of the housing problem,” Pedroza responded. “We don’t have enough land to do that.”
But each unit is a family home, he said. The median home price in Napa County is $600,000. The community needs housing that is affordable for its teachers, public safety workers and other workers, he said.
The county wants to build affordable housing at its 8.6-acre, former Health and Human Services campus on Old Sonoma Road. The Board of Supervisors will decide whether to tear down three century-old buildings there that a county report said appear eligible for the National Register of Historic Places.
A resident requested that the county keep the buildings. Pedroza made it clear housing is his priority and said some of the buildings have been “severely modified,” though he didn’t rule out preservation.
“If we can do both, if there’s a way, we’re going to do it, because that’s what we’re about,” Pedroza said.
He stressed that he has the same overall goal as the constituents who disagree with him on some issues, with that goal being a better Napa County.
“I’m raising a family here,” Pedroza said. “I want my son to live here. I want a good community.”