Napa Vision 2050 (NV): Why are you running and what sets you apart from the other candidates in your district?

Joelle Gallagher (JG): I have served our community in a variety of leadership roles for the past 30 years. While I have been an advocate and an activist, I have come to understand that to make lasting impact in the lives of our residents, I need to work at the policy-making level. I believe this is where I can be of most value to the community.

I have decades of experience working in both agriculture/land use and health and human services, the two largest areas of work for our County Board of Supervisors. I am the only District 1 candidate who has experience in both of these areas and has long-term relationships with both the agricultural industry, County Health and Human Services, and a myriad of community-based organizations providing services throughout Napa county.

NV: What areas need improvement for the BOS? What are your solutions/suggestions?

JG: I want to build a BOS that is more progressive and less risk-averse. I understand the importance of risk assessment, but there must also be a commitment to moving the community forward and being a leader among counties, both in terms of agricultural and environmental protection and social justice. I also want to work toward greater collaboration with our cities, both at the staff and Board levels.

NV: What are your personal actions and involvements in advocacy for our social inequities? (such as housing, food insecurity, language access, LGBTQ+, racism, etc.)

JG: Five years ago, I and a few other advocates, founded the Napa Housing Coalition. We are an ad-hoc group of individuals that are committed to promoting housing that is affordable throughout Napa county.

I am one of the founders of the First 5 Napa Network and Rainbow Action Network. We are working to build leaders in our community who are authentic, collaborative and committed to equity and inclusion. We led the effort to raise the Pride flag in all jurisdictions, created Rainbow Play Dates for diverse families, created and distributed Rainbow Action Kits to preschools and care providers, which bring equity education into classrooms/playrooms for young children 0-5, and created and delivered a program to parents focused on “anti-racist parenting.”

I am a founding member and steering committee member of the Community Leaders Coalition (CLC) a group formed after the 2016 election to protect vulnerable populations in Napa county. Over the last few years, we have focused on strengthening immigrant families (BOS immigrant rights resolution, education around the temporary change to the public charge rule, language access plan, etc), government transparency, the Voter’s Choice program, and increasing the number of traditionally “under-counted” populations in the 2020 census.

For several years I was the community co-chair of Live Healthy Napa County where we focused on food security and social inclusion.

I’ve served on several boards focused on housing/homeless (Continuum of Care), access to health insurance and healthcare (Community Health Initiative) and mental health (Teens Connect).

I am personally committed to environmental and social justice and have been an advocate and activist for over 30 years.

NV: Talk a little about your personal journey to understanding climate change. If you ever had a call to action, what was it?

JG: Not to be trite, but my “aha” moment was Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth.” My career has been focused mostly on children and families, although when I started out in Napa county I was very focused on resource protection (my mentor at Farm Bureau being Volker Eisele). Volker really impressed upon me the critical need for policy to protect the environment for the benefit of ag, resource protection, wildlife and residents. I well understand the link between human health and wellbeing and the environment. I know that to care for families, we MUST care for our environment. I am especially interested in environmental justice and mitigating the effects of climate change on our most vulnerable populations. A few years ago, I took a course through the University for Peace in Costa Rica called, “Climate Change and Human Mobility.” I was fascinated by the study of climate refugees, and understand how climate change has led to the surge of nationalism throughout the world. All these issues are critically woven together, and at the heart is the need to address the climate crisis directly through our policy actions.

NV: Climate change is not coming – it is already here. Napa County has yet to pass a Climate Action Plan. What are your goals and recommendations for Napa County?

JG: As a member of the Napa County Planning Commission, I have reviewed several drafts of the CAP. I believe the CAP should provide clear requirements and incentives and not rely on “encouraging” behavior. I have expressed this sentiment many times as a Planning Commissioner. I want to assure our CAP is clear and enforceable. I also want to assure that our CAP seeks to MEET state goals. While this may appear difficult to some, we must be compelled by science and make this a top priority for our County.

NV: What is your understanding of California’s water resources? How do you intend to use your knowledge to inform and lead on Napa county’s water issues? What responsibility does the BOS have in establishing water security for Napa County residents, both rural and within city limits?

JG: California’s water resources are and will become, increasingly diminished. We must better understand our resources (metering/monitoring) then create a plan for fair access for all stakeholders (ag, environment, residents). I recently attended a webinar about updating California Water Laws and was inspired by the recommendations of the Planning and Conservation League. All of the recommendations require legislation, and we must do what we can locally to create policy that moves Napa county forward. For example, rather than using historical trend data in analyzing water availability, we need to use real-time data that comes from increased monitoring efforts. One of the speakers in the webinar called the use of historical data in an era of climate change the “Waiting for Godot Fallacy.” MORE water isn’t ever going to come!

I’d like to see the County create a water agency that looks at water needs and availability countywide, rather than approaching this as separate jurisdictions. Water knows no boundaries. We must work together, rather than in opposition. I am encouraged by the cooperation we see between cities, but this must extend to include the County as well. The BOS and city councils, in addition to water experts, must collaborate to assure we have the water necessary to continue agricultural production, protect the environment and provide for our residents.

NV: What is your understanding of current land use issues in regards to deforestation?

JG: We cannot continue to deforest our hillsides and expect to have a healthy watershed, which includes water for irrigation, water for wildlife, flowing creeks, streams and rivers and water for our residents. In addition, removing mature trees removes our only real source of carbon sequestration, since our oceans are already doing the lion’s share of the work. As a County we need to find a way to move forward as a rural, agricultural community while putting environmental protection at the forefront. We cannot sustain our industry or our communities if we do not meet the demands of the climate crisis. We must be committed to long-term results rather than short-term desires
NV: What are your concerns regarding the watersheds, water usage, and biodiversity within high fire-prone areas. How would these impact your decision on upcoming applications?

JG: I am concerned about all development in our watersheds. We need to protect our water supply and our wildlife habitat and corridors. Additionally, we must manage land to protect against catastrophic wildfire. This includes vegetation management, which can be done without deforestation. In order to protect biodiversity (and protect all life) in our high fire severity zones, we must be very discerning regarding any type of development.

NV: One of the latest policy controversies was the Walt Ranch decision. Could you please share your understanding of the different sides of this issue as well as how you would have voted if you were on the Board?

JG: Although I did not have the opportunity to study the original project in-depth (as I would have, were I a member of the BOS) am deeply concerned about the deforestation of this property. I do not believe the adopted mitigation plan will achieve its goal, and I would not have voted for it. I understand that our General Plan sees agriculture as the “highest and best use” of land in the county; however, inherent in this goal is the protection of the environment that underpins our agricultural endeavors. Our General Plan also has as its prime directive, “the health and safety of the public.” Protecting the environment and mitigating the effects of climate change are critical to caring for our residents.

NV: Have any current or future land use applicants, to your knowledge, reached out to you to donate money or goods to your campaign?

JG: No, to my knowledge this has not occurred.

N: What suggestions do you have to increase involvement and public participation for residents throughout the valley and especially those who are Spanish-speaking?

I am excited for the opportunity to focus on community engagement. I’d like to see the County create an “immigrant engagement plan” that includes a “language access plan,” which other cities and counties have adopted. (The CLC is currently working with County reps to develop a language access plan.) It is important that public meetings and officials are not only accessible to all residents, but are welcoming, inclusive, and strategically engage all segments of our population. We must have the opportunity to hear all voices. As a candidate, I reach out to all members of our community and welcome the opportunity to listen and understand all needs/hopes and desires.