AMERICAN CANYON — While there may not have been fireworks during Tuesday’s American Canyon Chamber of Commerce-sponsored forum for District 5 supervisor candidates, there were some civilized sparklers near the end of the event.
More than 80 people filled the seats of the city’s new Boys & Girls Club’s multi-purpose room to listen to incumbent Supervisor Belia Ramos and challenger Mariam Aboudamous, who serves on the American Canyon City Council. The election is March 3.
In answer to a question about what committees the rivals serve on in their respective posts, Ramos was able to tick off a slew, while Aboudamous directed those interested in the answer, to look it up on her website.
“I feel this question is directed at me because I still have a full-time job,” Aboudamous said defensively. “I took a leave of absence from my job, and I have made time (for the work required of a city council member). I will scale back my job (if elected) supervisor.”
Ramos, on the other hand, noted that she is and has been the area’s full-time county supervisor for the past four years.
“This is what I do,” she said. “I’m your supervisor seven days a week. I’ve been your supervisor for three years, and on the City Council for six years before that, and I get to touch lives every day. During the fires, I worked 65 days straight. I love it, and I want to continue to be your (representative at the county level).”
The issue of experience also arose.
Ramos appeared to more easily retrieve information about countywide issues and processes – a situation Aboudamous conceded.
“I didn’t know how to be a council member when I was elected four years ago, but I learned,” she said. “I know there will be a learning curve. I know we have to strike a balance between growth and quality of life.”
Ramos was also able to work in mention of endorsements she’s received from American Canyon Mayor Leon Garcia, Napa Mayor Jill Techel, and local Realtors, while Aboudamous mentioned she’d gotten endorsements from some folks who had originally backed Ramos.
During the bulk of the forum, both women acknowledged that the three main issues facing south Napa County are affordable workforce housing, traffic and economic development. They also said that as elected officials, their job is to safeguard the quality of life for residents, especially the most vulnerable including the homeless and youth.
Ramos noted that the Average Daily Attendance model for school funding, which California uses, is too uncertain in times of declining enrollment.
“Legislative changes are needed. The largest school district in Napa County gets the fewest dollars per child, and that’s not acceptable,” she said.
Aboudamous noted that declining enrollment has already cost American Canyon an anticipated second middle school, which she said is still badly needed to reduce overcrowding.
In discussing the area’s perennial traffic congestion, Ramos noted the work she’s done to help bring projects aimed at mitigation to fruition. Aboudamous suggested one way to bring in the funds needed to create solutions might be to install parking meters at Napa Valley wineries, which, she said, benefit from the traffic created by visitors but which aren’t presently contributing to traffic mitigation impact fees.
Each woman noted personal encounters with the types of issues facing Napa County residents. Aboudamous said that when she returned to her home town after earning her law degree, she found herself among few of her local peers who had done so. She attributed this in part to a lack of affordable housing and office space, and suggested this is bad for the area long term.
Ramos said she ran up against the area’s tight and expensive housing market when she became a single mom in 2013.
“I’m an educated person and an elected official, and I nearly couldn’t find a place to even rent,” she said.
Most of the area’s most pressing issues are interrelated, both candidates said – housing is needed to bring workers, which are needed to bring good-paying jobs, which now are mostly outside the city, adding to the heavy traffic through town, at morning and evening rush hour.
“I am not a polished politician, but I’m going to fight for this community, and build relationships with those who can help guide me,” Aboudamous said in her closing remarks. “I have a heart and passion for my community, and I’m going to fight for it, whether I’m elected or not. I want to do it as your supervisor.”
In her closing statement, Ramos called it an “incredible honor and privilege to work with you, and represent you, and advocate for you; to stand up for you; to be the person that can stand up and say we are going to build affordable housing. And I’m not learning on the job. It’s what I do every day, and I want to keep working for you as your supervisor.”
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