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

Anna Chouteau (AC): I am running for Napa County Supervisor because I care deeply about our region’s unique character and natural beauty; its history and future; and community.

As a mother with two children in our schools, I care about high-quality public education. I have extensive experience in business (organizational development) and community organizing, informing my belief that the most effective way to achieve results is by bringing people together to work toward shared goals.

My background gives me the skills to do this. I am committed to listening, learning, and finding solutions that offer positive outcomes; I value transparency, collaboration, and opportunities for all. I will work to preserve our county’s character and community while advocating for programs and policies in support of the environmentally sustainable economy necessary for our future.

I will stand up for families, seniors, and people from all economic and ethnic backgrounds. I believe climate change, fire risk, and drought are a threat to our environment, economy, and safety and will work to make sure we are doing everything possible to explore solutions while preparing for its impacts. As a 5th generation Californian, I care about keeping our community small, accessible and healthy for generations to come.

Running for local office takes hard work and incredible dedication, but it also means having the courage to make hard decisions to bring positive change. We need concrete actions to achieve substantive progress on gender and racial equity, mental health issues, and environmental regulation. I don’t believe in settling for the status quo; instead, I am determined to make our home a better place for Napa County residents.

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

AC: We are facing unprecedented challenges in our region. I believe we need new leadership to help our communities recover from this pandemic, tackle climate change, and our ongoing fire risks and drought. We also need to focus on economic recovery and continue to pursue racial equity in Napa County.

First, I want to help people and businesses get through the pandemic and then to recover and build back better, smarter, and stronger than before. It will take a focus on our business community for economic recovery once we can open again by working with all our Chambers of Commerce, Visit Napa Valley, our Tourism Improvement District, and more industry partners. At the same time, we must continue to support and collaborate with the extensive coalition of community organizations and non-profits that provide the safety net of services to many in our community.

Second, our Board of Supervisors should ensure that the money we spend on child-care, early childhood education, and wraparound services are spent equitably and with the goal of promoting universal access to high-quality early childhood services, including pre-school for all.

Third, we need to address the affordability crisis in Napa County by prioritizing affordable housing development. We should be doing everything we can to ensure our government processes are set up to make affordable housing a priority and be open and responsive to meet the challenge.

Fourth, we need to do everything we can in Napa County to become a more sustainable and resilient community. We need to incorporate actions that reduce our dependence on fossil fuels into all the projects subject to County review, from residential and commercial construction to, transportation, energy, and agricultural practices.

The County is responsible for spending tens of millions of dollars on mental health supportive services. While the current services range from addiction counseling to treatment for severe chronic mental health conditions, it is clear that many more members of our community would benefit from robust mental health and wellness support.
As a County Supervisor, I will prioritize mental healthcare and make sure our counselors and social workers have the resources they need to intervene and improve mental health outcomes.

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

AC: I have spent a great deal of my personal and professional career promoting causes centered around gender and racial equity, advocating for justice and civil liberties for people of color and the LGBTQ+ communities. That focus and commitment will not change during my campaign and subsequent public service as a supervisor.

I will continue to ensure marginalized people have a voice and are well-represented on issues, especially in the realms of health, employment, the justice system, law enforcement interactions, education, housing, and reproductive issues.

I am a long-time supporter of Planned Parenthood and its commitment to promoting a better, healthier world no matter what race, identity/gender, sexual orientation, or socio-economic status a person may have. I have also publicly supported the Black Lives Matter movement and have advocated for more Latine therapists so we can serve all members of our community with culturally-appropriate care delivered in Spanish.
During my time as a councilmember, I adopted a resolution affirming that discrimination and systematic racism constitute a public health crisis, causing disparities in mental well-being, language access, housing, economic developments, health, and criminal justice experience.

I have engaged (and will continue to pursue) in public meetings to create a diversity and inclusion work plan that includes live Spanish translations of meetings and mandatory training in cultural awareness and communication for city and law enforcement employees.

As a Napa County Supervisor, I will support, as I have at the city level, a “Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Committee” with a seat for a youth member to identify recommendations to ensure a more socially diverse and inclusive community.
We also need to address the affordability crisis in Napa County by prioritizing affordable housing development.

In an effort to meet that challenge, I approved a loan for $1.4 million for Local Our Town St. Helena (OTSH) to purchase apartments and convert them to regulated affordable housing, and I advocated for designating city land for affordable housing projects and working with local developers to secure funding for affordable housing.

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

AC: I grew up in Sonoma County, surrounded by the beauty of vineyards, natural landscape, and the Russian River in our backyard. Hiking and backpacking with my family are cherished memories, and I have always been interested in the environment. I’ve worked for environmental nonprofits and wrote my master’s thesis on environmental sustainability and business practices.

My first job out of college was working with the Ocean Futures Society to promote initiatives related to marine conservation, education, and awareness.

I am passionate about making the world a better place and therefore 100% committed to rectifying the harm caused by climate change and will do everything possible to find solutions. Few issues are as important to the future of our community as climate change. Earlier generations of leaders have failed us—we knew climate change was coming and now we are living through the devastating reality of constant emergencies.

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?

AC: Climate Change issues are deeply personal for me. I’ve been a steadfast champion for the environment, and on the Board of Supervisors I plan to play a key role in developing viable solutions to mitigate harm while also preparing for inevitable impacts. We’re going from everyone starting to understand what a crisis this is to, all of a sudden, hearing it’s too late. I want to make sure we actually do the things we need to do.

Recognizing that climate change requires a coordinated, regional response, I led the creation of the Napa County Climate Action Committee in collaboration with Supervisor Wagenknecht and other elected officials willing to work on a regional approach to climate action.

We can no longer afford to kick the can down the road and wait for climate action from others. We need to do everything we can in Napa County to become a more sustainable and resilient community.

We already know the majority of the actions we need to take to reduce our carbon footprint. We must constantly and persistently incorporate actions that reduce the use of fossil fuels into everything the Board regulates, including land use planning, residential and commercial construction, transportation, energy use, and agricultural practices.

There is opportunity everywhere to do better. We must preserve and find more funding to expand and maintain our open spaces. We need to invest in climate resiliency measures that ensure access to clean drinking water by advocating for and mandating conservation practices and by increasing the use of recycled water.

We must continue to champion alternate forms of transportation with supporting the Vine Trail, Safe Routes to School, and transitioning to electric and alternative fuel vehicles. Equally important is to build the infrastructure necessary to move everyone who lives here and wants to visit us to the new green fuel economy.

Napa County can be a leader in bringing people together to tackle the tough issues of climate change and the local environmental issues unique to 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?

AC: It is critical that everyone understands the severity of the current drought conditions in California and in Napa County. We are running out of water, and we must pull together to conserve and plan for the future. Unfortunately, our current predicament is not an aberration — extended drought is the new normal. Climate change is resulting in smaller, shorter-lived snowpacks and higher levels of evaporation, both of which reduce the availability of water for a given level of precipitation.

Global climate change is causing emergency conditions in communities around the world, and we must now take steps at every level of government to keep our communities resilient. For all of us in Napa County, this means conserving water not just now, during our water emergency, but from now on.

Funding is available to help offset the cost of transitioning to “water-wise” practices at home and work. Rebates are an excellent incentive to help cover the costs of water-wise projects, such as retrofitting toilets, installing rainwater harvesting systems, and converting yards to more sustainable landscaping.
With the current lack of rain, we may be headed for another tough year. We must continue to prioritize water conservation and the efficient use of Napa County’s water for our common good.

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

AC: Concerns about the impacts of development in our woodlands and watersheds are not new, but as our awareness of the consequences has grown, the call for action has intensified. The ecology of our woodland habitats plays an important role in protecting soil, water quality and overall biodiversity, and the role of forests in sequestering carbon is of increasing concern. Underlying all of this is an issue that I sometimes think is overlooked – the damage deforestation does to our collective sense of well-being.

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?

AC: Climate change has turned every hillside into a high-risk fire zone – areas that have been home to Napa County residents since the 19th century have burned, and the cities of St. Helena and Calistoga have been perilously close to burning as well. Given that the highest priority of our first responders is saving lives, and that the second priority is saving homes, we need a whole new set of policies to govern development in remote locations, so that our first responders can make the transition from life protection and home protection to fire containment as quickly as possible. Long-term strategies for reducing the fuel load will be essential to protecting the environment from the ecological damage of a continuous cycle of major wildfires. We need to invest in a robust monitoring program to develop a better understanding of the effect of groundwater extraction in the ag watershed on the tributaries to the Napa River. All of these concerns will affect my decisions on development applications.

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?

AC: The Walt Ranch project intends to clear-cut 316 acres or over 14,000 mature oak trees for 209-acres of vineyard development. The owners of Walt Ranch have offered mitigation measures—the preservation of 124 acres and the planting of 16,790 new trees—to offset the 27,528 metric tons of carbon dioxide that will be produced by the tree loss. The owners believed they acted in accordance with the laws, did an EIR, then compromised further and proposed a mitigation measure.

Opponents of the project believe that this is an inadequate plan to offset the environmental harms, arguing that a plan must prioritize permanent protections and include science-backed measures to ensure successful, sustained growth. It will take years, if not decades, to see any results since newly planted trees won’t yield immediate carbon-reduction benefits, if they survive at all.

There is no guarantee that all or even most of the plant seedlings will survive to maturity to make up for the greenhouse gas emissions caused by the project—especially considering our current drought and wildfire crisis.

Thankfully it was agreed that more trees will be planted than originally proposed, and an 80-percent survival rate for saplings is a requirement to cover for all 14,000+ trees that are to be removed. However, even these added protections might not be enough. We need to better balance between Napa County’s economic development and necessary environmental protections. This project highlights the needs to relook at what we are allowing where and making needed changes so that project applicants clearly know what is or is not allowed on their land as we all face new climate change realities together.

I would not be able to vote on this issue because my husband works for them

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

AC: I am asking everyone I know to donate to my campaign and to encourage others to give. I have a personal relationship with the Halls and asked them early to support me, but, as noted above, I will not vote on any of the Halls’ projects because my husband works for them. In addition, I will not vote on any projects when the decision will have a reasonably foreseeable material financial effect, distinguishable from the effect on the public generally, directly on me or my immediate family, I will abide by all other restrictions set out in the FPPC regulations, and I will not structure my financial activities to evade the intent of the Fair Political Practices Act.

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

AC: As Supervisor, I know it is imperative that the residents feel that they have direct access to me regarding issues in our county. Only with real, honest, and respectful conversations can elected officials be able to reflect the needs of residents and make the best and most inclusive decisions.

A key component in successful participation is building healthy, positive, and trustworthy relationships. First and foremost, I will be authentic and transparent. I will do my best to present information in clear, concise, and user-friendly formats, and I will seek to ensure that all county officials do the same. We need to personalize, make things comfortable and friendly, and be culturally sensitive to show that we really care about being inclusive—not just filling a room or completing surveys.

I will advocate for a focus on hearing and sight-impaired individuals, seniors, and mobility-challenged residents so that they have the opportunity to comment directly on the policy and planning issues that concern them — now that we have learned how to use technology to conduct public meetings over the internet, we should use these skills to expand access for those who cannot attend our meetings in person.

As a St. Helena council member, I helped create a diversity and inclusion work plan that now includes live Spanish translation of council meetings. I believe Napa County can and should do something similar by developing “Spanish-language Leadership Committees” that produce a conduit between residents and their representatives. These leadership committees could provide a ‘Language Access Plan’ to ensure we communicate effectively with limited English proficient individuals to better understand the needs, concerns, and goals of our diverse constituency. Perhaps most important of all, county supervisors and staff should, whenever possible, meet with our Spanish-speaking residents in their communities in order to develop relationships and establish trust in ways that will encourage greater participation. I am firmly committed to doing so myself.