St. Helena is in desperate need of leadership that understands what’s at stake for the future of our community.
The St. Helena Star has called on proponents of recalling Mayor Alan Galbraith to sit down and engage with him to come up with solutions that work for everyone. We would welcome that opportunity.
St. Helena City Council member Peter White has written, “It would serve our city well to concentrate on our issues at hand in open dialogue in a transparent and fair forum where all sides can be articulated at our city council meeting.”
We agree that open dialogue could be a reasonable path forward. But that isn’t happening.
For example, we had a town hall meeting at our firehouse last year over the Adams Street development. Our past city manager promised there would be more public meetings before the city determined the site’s future use. Seven months later, without further public discussion, the council voted to approve HRV as the preferred developer for a hotel on the site. The city also spent $39,000 to hire three out-of-town consultants to recommend HRV without knowledge of the full city council.
Several citizens expressed other ideas for the Adams Street property at public meetings: leaving the land as an open space; building a community center; creating affordable housing. Why weren’t those ideas discussed in more depth?
Do you call that open and transparent dialogue? The mayor gives lip service to an open process, and then supports closed-door decisions that go against the will of many in the community.
There have been many important city council meetings in last few months during which public input was ignored or discouraged.
- Open dialogue and the opportunity for compromise were shut down at the Beringer expansion project hearing. Concerns over safety, noise and traffic were ignored. These valid concerns were dismissed by a swift approval of the project.
- The most recent CIA dormitory variance request was considered in isolation. When the Culinary Institute asked for more housing to accommodate over 100 new students near the same Pratt/Main Street intersection impacted by Las Alcobas Hotel and the Beringer project, there was no mention of how all three projects would together add to traffic, noise and stress on our wastewater system.
- The city is hiding the ball on important water and wastewater spending issues. At council meetings where proposed water rate hikes were reviewed, customers were denied information about water allocations and usage rates among different users, making it impossible for the public to understand whether the rate increases were fair and reasonable. Meanwhile, St. Helena water customers are paying approximately 5 percent interest annually on a $3.2 million-dollar debt to remove the York Creek Dam. We’ve been paying interest on that debt since 2012, but demolition isn’t even slated to begin until 2018. Best business practices require borrowed money for a project to be spent within a few years. Mayor Galbraith has allowed this project to flounder with no action taken.
Some local CPAs and others with backgrounds in professional finance have researched some of the city’s financial documents and have expressed deep concerns over the city’s fiscal mismanagement. The mayor has not given any of this serious attention.
It’s all fine and good to call for open engagement at this late hour, but we have watched St. Helena fall deeper and deeper into mismanagement without concern for local priorities.
Frankly, we can’t wait until the next election to start seeing a change. Our mayor should be considering the impacts of new projects on our town. How will they affect our neighborhoods? Our water and air? How will they impact our community’s long-term financial health?
For the few projects listed here, and many others, we still can’t answer these important questions. Listening to residents’ concerns and including their opinions should be a priority. That takes time, and the council along with the mayor, needs to slow down.
If people are worried about the cost of a special election, consider some of the expenditures the city has made in the last year:
1) $39,000 paid to the three-person committee to promote the Adams Street HRV Hotel proposal.
2) The expense of re-opening the water rate study to correct such things as a 2000 percent rate increase for numerous downtown businesses.
3) Continued lawyer fees in the $700,000 range when other nearby comparable towns have legal fees of around $300,000.
4) Continued fines of $70 a day for not taking down York Creek dam, thus far costing the city $6.5 million.
If the mayor wants to save the cost of a special election, he always has the option to resign.
The recall group is open to mediation with Mayor Galbraith while the recall effort continues.
Tom Belt, Kathy Coldiron
Two of the 26 recall proponents