A political storm is brewing in St. Helena. The challenges at its root are sure to be familiar to all Napa and Sonoma county residents. When will we have enough winery event centers and hotels? How much development can our water supply support? How do we balance economic opportunity with protecting quality of life and public resources?
Agriculture, and wine-growing, will always be a vital part of our economy and culture. But the character of our communities and the beauty of our region are at risk if we do not take steps now to check commercial influence.
In St. Helena, residents have launched a campaign to curb the influence of the commercial hospitality industry over local planning decisions. We are working to recall Mayor Alan Galbraith, who has been overly accommodating to outside interests and flouts the majority of the community’s wishes. St. Helena is on an unsustainable path that can only be reversed by a change in leadership.
St. Helena residents are not alone in fighting to maintain autonomy in the face of deep-pocketed hospitality and wine-industry interests. Locals look on powerlessly as large-scale commercial operations openly flout permitting and planning regulations, only to be given a pass by public agencies. There are plenty of wine growers, winery owners and hospitality operations willing to play by the rules, but too often their voices are drowned out by large commercial interests more dedicated to protecting their bottom lines than the communities where they operate.
If we could shift local culture back to a place where discussion at public meetings were both encouraged and respected, we could find reasonable compromise solutions.
Recalling Mayor Galbraith may seem extreme. We’ve filed lawsuits. We’ve showed up in force at public meetings. We’ve met privately with our elected officials. Nothing has succeeded in getting our community back on track. With a little luck, this recall will.
Kathy Coldiron is a teacher and Mike Griffin is a retired local firefighter. Both are longtime St. Helena residents.
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