Napa County Supervisor Belia Ramos wants a second term representing southern Napa County and challenger Mariam Aboudamous says it’s time for a change.
Voters in the 5th supervisor district will decide in the March 3 election. The district includes American Canyon, southeast city of Napa and much of Coombsville.
Each candidate lives in American Canyon, has served on the American Canyon City Council – Aboudamous presently holds a seat—and has a law degree. Each has endorsements from the local political establishment.
Among Aboudamous’ backers are state Sen. Bill Dodd, D-Napa, county Supervisor Diane Dillon and American City Canyon City Councilmember Mark Joseph. Ramos’ endorsers include Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, Supervisors Ryan Gregory and Brad Wagenknecht and American Canyon Mayor Leon Garcia.
Ramos was born at Queen of the Valley Medical Center in Napa and grew up in St. Helena, where her father worked on a farm. The American Canyon resident was elected supervisor in 2016 with no opponent.
“I’ve seen all of the challenges before us, as a renter, as a single mother of three,” Ramos said.
Aboudamous was born in San Francisco to Palestinian immigrants from Jerusalem and grew up in American Canyon. She was elected to the American City Council in 2016 with Ramos’ endorsement. She is the first Muslim to hold elected office in Napa County.
“I believe we need a leader who is accessible and willing to fight for us at the south end of the county,” Aboudamous said. “And I don’t believe we have that.”
Southern Napa County is a world of growing subdivisions, industry, farms and wetlands. American Canyon sits on the edge of the urban Bay Area to the south and rural wine country to the north.
Ramos and Aboudamous both want to serve this unique supervisor district. Each sat down with the Napa Valley Register on separate occasions to answer questions.
If you could change anything in Napa County, what would it be?
Ramos said she would like to change the way the county provides mental health services. She wants to increase awareness that mental health is part of overall well-being. She wants to remove the stigma associated with mental health issues.
“It starts with making sure that we have access,” Ramos said.
Aboudamous sees room for county government to improve.
“It would be building of relationships .... county-cities, county-stakeholders, county-residents and being more responsive to our constituents,” Aboudamous said. “And just the times. I feel like the county moves very slowly and there are things that need to be done a lot more quickly than they are being done.”
How can the county increase affordable housing while still protecting agricultural lands?
Housing needs to be city-centered and higher density, Aboudamous said. If someone can walk to the grocery store, that’s a car off the road.
“I think it’s very important to continue to protect our open spaces and our ag preserve,” Aboudamous said. “But we also have to recognize we have all sorts of commuters coming in and we need to help alleviate traffic. And actually, it’s also better for the environment to get these cars off the road.”
Ramos said the county during her first term contributed money toward 329 affordable housing units in local cities. Of that, 149 units came in 2019. In addition, the county in 2019 provided $922,000 to help homebuyers with down payments through its workforce proximity housing program.
She noted that voters in 2018 approved Measure I. That added 1 percent to the transient occupancy tax to be spent on affordable housing.
“It is my sincere hope with the influx of Measure I money that we’ll be able to—not match our efforts we had in this first term—but to exceed them,” Ramos said.
Napa County has more than 500 wineries and some say enough is enough. Should the county raise the minimum parcel size for new wineries from 10 acres to 40 acres?
Ramos said the county has a process for winery growth in place with its general plan. The general plan provides a ceiling and the county needs to live within those bounds.
The 2008 general plan environmental impact report called for up to 225 new wineries and 12,500 acres of new vineyards between 2006 and 2030.
Ramos doesn’t favor an immediate exploration of upping the minimum property size for new wineries. She said the county can address winery impacts through such things as setbacks and its viewshed law. Location is the most important factor to consider for a proposed, new winery.
Napa County needs to continue to make certain wineries follow the rules, she said.
“Before we start making sweeping changes of regulations, it’s important for us to understand where we’re at,” Ramos said. “I want to have a high level of confidence in our compliance. I’m committed to continue to work on that first.”
Aboudamous said she is aware of the issue of winery growth versus agricultural preservation and traffic.
“I think there needs to be a balance, definitely,” Aboudamous said. “What that looks like right now, I’m not sure.”
Napa County’s 1990 winery definition ordinance sets the rules for new wineries and winery expansions, including that 10-acre minimum parcel size for new wineries.
Aboudamous sees issues that go beyond that particular rule. Among them is a request by various family farms for the right to hold wine tastings without building wineries.
“I’m very open to opening (the winery definition ordinance) back up and trying to find something that’s going to accommodate the bulk of our residents and wineries,” Aboudamous said. “There’s got to be some sort of fix that is the best case for everyone.”
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What do you need to learn about being supervisor?
Aboudamous said that, on the American City Council, she has gained a deeper understanding of the issues, the way local government works, her city and its residents.
“I’m going to need to learn all of that on the county level,” Aboudamous said. “And the county focuses a lot more on land use and zoning than the cities do. So there is more land use and zoning stuff I am going to have to learn.”
Ramos said she wants to empower people to use county services, whether it be alcohol-and-drug treatment, child support or the library. She wants to expand the county’s reach, so people know what the county does for them.
“Regardless if people know it, a supervisor touches your life each and every day,” Ramos said. “You get on the road, you’re bound to touch a county road. You check out a book at the library. You go into the courthouse to file a document.”
What can the county do to ease traffic problems on Highway 29?
Both Ramos and Aboudamous mentioned building the Newell Drive extension, which is to be an American Canyon eastern parallel route to Highway 29. They want Newell Drive extended past city limits to South Kelly Road in the rural county.
Aboudamous said she’s talked to winery owners and upvalley employers about trying to establish a shuttle service for workers. She wants a better-working bus system. Housing is a factor.
Simply adding lanes to Highway 29 in the south county won’t be the sole solution. A variety of things are needed, Aboudamous said.
Ramos commutes from American Canyon to the city of Napa. She said improving the intersection of highways 29 and 221 – Soscol Junction – will be an important project.
“The greatest, greatest impact of traffic dollars is at intersections,” Ramos said.
Ramos talked about using technology to make public transit more appealing and convenient. Perhaps the classic bus stop will give way to a system that is more flexible, she said.
Watershed and tree protection has been a controversial issue as vineyards move into hills. What more should be done?
Ramos said the county last year updated its water quality and tree protection laws. That was the first meaningful change to county conservation regulations in a couple of decades.
Napa County did such things as increased tree canopy protection in municipal watersheds from 60 percent to 70 percent and extended the protections to other unincorporated areas. It modified stream setback requirements.
“The great part of land use is we can do a little, check in and then adjust,” Ramos said.
Ramos wants a check-in to see what impact the rule changes have made. In addition, she’d like to the county look at having building envelopes for new houses in the unincorporated area and mapping areas of high biological value, she said.
Aboudamous said Napa County’s efforts last year to address watershed and tree protection issues probably didn’t satisfy anybody. All sides should get together to talk about the matter.
“I think that should be revisited,” Abadoumaous said. “Our watersheds are so important. And without them, we won’t have the thriving Napa Valley that we have now.”
Aboudamous has the backing of both the Napa County Farm Bureau and Napa Vision 2050. These two groups have been on different sides of the watershed-and-tree protection battles, with Napa Vision 2050 wanting more stringent protections.
How can Aboudamous satisfy backers with divergent views on such a controversial issue?
“I believe both organizations see me as someone who is willing to listen respectfully and have conversation,” she said. “My track record on the city council is I’m willing and usually reach out to all stakeholders involved before making a decision.”
How can the county better protect itself from wildfires?
Napa County in October 2017 lost more than 600 homes to the Atlas, Partrick/Nuns and Tubbs wildfires. Cal Fire concluded that trees and tree limbs falling into power lines on a windy night sparked the Atlas and Partrick fires.
“Undergrounding utilities should help with wildfires, especially considering the ones that we’ve been having are PG&E-related,” Aboudamous said.
Napa County endured public safety power shutoffs last fall during high wildfire danger weather, including an American Canyon blackout. Aboudamous said she wants to see updated Pacific, Gas & Electric infrastructure.
But how does Napa County accomplish this, given it doesn’t control PG&E? Local emergency officials have complained that it’s hard even to get information from the utility during public safety power shutoffs.
Aboudamous said the county has been working on a stronger relationship with the California Public Utilities Commission to hold PG&E accountable. She wants to continue that effort. Also, she said, the county should work with PG&E as a partner.
“Because at the end of the day, nobody wants to live in the dark,” Aboudamous said. “But people would rather live in the dark than have their houses burn down ... (That choice) is the sad reality and it’s not the way it should be.”
Ramos talked about local programs that help residents create defensible space around their homes. For example, the county provides free chipping for fuel loads. She talked about the importance of community Firewise programs.
People think of neighborhood watch groups as being about crime prevention. The groups can prepare for fires and other emergencies as well, with neighbors talking about defensible space, checking in on each other and evacuation plans, Ramos said.
“That preparation is critical for our first 48 hours of any incidents,” Ramos said.
She too wants the county to continue to address public safety power shutoffs.
“One thing that is clear is we cannot wait on PG&E to do the right thing,” Ramos said. “We have to create a readiness plan to address the needs of our community, especially the medically fragile, during times of power shutoffs.”
You can reach Barry Eberling at 256-2253 or email@example.com.