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

Anne Cottrell (AC) My background, education, and experience (both professionally and in community and nonprofit spheres) have equipped me with a broad knowledge base and skill set for the job of Napa County Supervisor. First, I have a long-term connection to the people and communities of District 3 and Napa County as a whole. I was born and raised in St. Helena, and went K-12 at the St. Helena public schools. Growing up, I worked many different local jobs: at the kiosk at Bothe State Park, at the local movie theater (then the Liberty, now the Cameo), for a catering firm, in a tasting room and on bottling lines. All this work helped me better understand our local community and the jobs and businesses that make up our local economy. My decades spent in this community have given me not only an understanding of current issues, but also a comprehension of the history we have here. As a long-time resident, I have formed relationships with folks all over the valley, and I understand the perspective of residents in many different parts of the county.

Second, through my education and professional experience, I have gained skills and expertise to address the challenges we face. I earned my undergraduate degree at Yale University and my law degree from UC Berkeley School of Law. After law school, I went to work for the Oregon Attorney General, first doing criminal appellate work, and later advising natural resource agencies in the state. This work gave me experience with the public sector and different government entities, as well as experience addressing water and land use issues. When I moved back to California, I worked in private practice on a range of topics, including estate planning and land use.

Third, my community and nonprofit involvement has allowed me to work with local residents and develop a deeper understanding of the challenges and opportunities we face in District 3. For example, I co-chaired the 17-member St. Helena General Plan Update Steering Committee; I have served on the Board and as Board Chair for the Napa County Land Trust; and as a Board member for Nimbus Arts and the Napa Valley Vine Trail.

Currently, I serve on the Napa County Planning Commission; Diane Dillon appointed me to the position in 2014. My seven years as a Planning Commissioner have allowed me to develop a county-wide perspective (from Pope Valley, to Gordon Valley, to Franz Valley!) and granted me the opportunity to listen and talk with applicants, industry representatives, and members of the public on a range of topics over the years. I also serve on the Watershed Information and Conservation Council (WICC), and I’m a member of the St. Helena Walking Trails subcommittee. Most recently, I served on the Community Wildfire Protection Plan (CWPP) task force, an effort spearheaded by the Napa Community Firewise Foundation (NCFF). The CWPP process was a valuable chance to work with fire professionals – in both prevention and response – and learn more about fire risk and mitigation planning in the county. Now, I am also working with local residents who are reinvigorating St. Helena’s Fire Safe Council.

My vision for the county involves three interdependent principles – each of which is linked to, and in balance with, the others: (a) healthy people and resilient communities, (b) a robust and sustainable economy, and (c) ongoing stewardship of our natural and agricultural resources. With those as the “long-game” priorities, I see the following as the most urgent goals we need to work on together: (1) wildfire prevention and response; (2) a safe and secure water supply; (3) workforce housing; (4) climate change adaptation and response; and finally, (5) improved communication and partnership between cities and county, between rural north and more populated south county, and especially between county government and the residents, businesses, and industries of the county.

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

AC: I’d like to see the BOS focus on better communication, collegiality, and support of staff. I would draw on my seven years’ experience on the Planning Commission to work toward this. As a commission, we don’t always agree, and we bring different perspectives to our review of projects. But we respect each other, and we can move on after differences. And I have worked to develop good communication and working relationships with staff.

The BOS has an opportunity to be a strong leadership presence in the county, and help our community find solutions to the challenges that face us – fire risk, water security, workforce housing, and climate change, to name a few big ones. And as mentioned above, improving communication between county government and residents is an important goal for me. And finally, I’d like to see the BOS emphasize the ways in which different segments of the county are interdependent and need each other (whether north and south, or hillsides, agriculture and urban centers) to create a sustainable future for all.

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: Pre-Covid, I have volunteered for Citizenship Legal Services here in Napa County, helping people as they navigate the complicated process of applying for citizenship. Through that experience, I have learned about the chilling effect of many federal immigration policies – in that they undermine trust in any government programs and discourage residents from being able to fully participate in our communities. As Supervisor, I will hold on to this lesson and work to support inclusive policies, including California’s status as a sanctuary state. And for Napa
County in particular, we want to send a message of inclusion not only on immigration but also health care and housing – so I will be working to explore all options for affordable housing as well.

So much of our politics starts from our personal experience. Having family and close friends who are members of the LGBTQ+ community has been a key driver in my understanding of issues and my interest in supporting equality and inclusivity. On a national level, we have seen a progress in a recent SCOTUS decision that places transgender identity under the protection of federal civil rights law. As a Supervisor and county leader, my work will fall somewhere between the personal and the national: I can support the LGBTQ+ community by asking for inclusive language in communications; in asking our health and human services departments to specifically report out on health care access for LGBTQ+ people and especially youth; and also underscore the need for mental health services for all groups who need it; and finally, by helping educate people about the recent developments in the law that provide important protections for LGBTQ+ of all ages.

And most recently, for almost a year now, I have been a regular volunteer at St. Helena Hospital’s vaccine clinic. It has been a wonderful chance to work with health care workers and other volunteers to help those who live and work in the county protect their health by getting vaccinated. It has also been eye-opening to see how far workers are traveling from their homes to work here. It has made me more convinced of the need for housing solutions, as well as the potential for workforce housing to strengthen our communities and make our county a healthier place for all.

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

AC: For more than 30 years, I have been interested in our environment and the challenges we face in managing our resources for long-term sustainability. In college, I had a double major in Environmental Studies and English. I received an Environmental Certificate along with my law degree and worked on the Ecology Law Quarterly journal. I’ve done internships at the Sierra Club and at the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Growing up in Napa County, I remember climatic events – for example, the few times it snowed in St. Helena – actually at 128 feet elevation! – and then the drought of 1976, and a couple of big flood events in the late 1980’s. I viewed those differently than I do our current weather events. Those felt like isolated acts – occurring once a decade or two – whereas I see current extreme weather and climate conditions as part of a planet-wide experience of climate change, that, as is pointed out below, is already here. The retreating glacier I saw a few years ago in Patagonia was a graphic illustration of the presence and pace of climate change. But probably the most impactful moments for me have been watching my sons view the world, and seeing their anxiety and concern about the changing planet that they are inhabiting now.

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: As a planning commissioner, I have raised the issue of our lack of a final CAP, and asked about progress. I understand the reasons for the pause in plan development – we need a complete GHG inventory – but as a Supervisor, I would push for the CAP work to go forward. We are lucky to have the Climate Action Committee meeting regularly, and I commend the priorities they are recommending while awaiting the GHG inventory. I would support all those priorities: a parking reduction ordinance; a zero-waste ordinance for temporary events, a countywide gas leaf-blower ban, and an electric vehicle charging ordinance. As Supervisor I would also advocate looking ahead to the update of our General Plan, so that we start to prepare for integrating climate action policies into that update.

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: From my water law class and research in law school to my work on federal water rights adjudication as part of my internship at NRDC, I have experience and background in California water resources issues. Water resources rules and management have also changed over the years and our new SGMA statute has brought new rules. As Supervisor, I will support an education effort about our current water rules to help residents and leaders understand better what water resources we have, and how much we are using, as well as the steps we need to take to conserve those resources.

The BOS does have responsibility for water security for its residents, and the Board will need to work with the municipalities as we face more drought in the years ahead. (For one example, as a member of the WICC board, I have been part of the discussions about the new requirement from the state that counties form a Drought Task Force to assist well-owners.)

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

AC: When tree removal and vineyard development occur on hillsides without sufficient mitigation, they can result in increased sediment and nutrient loads in our streams and rivers, impacting water quality and habitat (as well as decreased carbon sequestration capacity). The Watershed Quality and Tree Removal Ordinance of 2019 was a post-Measure C effort to address these impacts and increase protections for hillsides and watersheds. As Supervisor, I would like the County to find ways to share data about water quality so we can assess the effectiveness of that ordinance and other current measures. On another front, the recent fires have destroyed so much of our hillside vegetation, and they have also brought a new awareness about the need to actively manage our forests, using fuel reduction strategies (like grazing or prescribed burns) to make our forests more resilient to wildfire. Besides participating in the County Wildfire Protection Plan (CWPP) process, I have been meeting with members of the Napa Community Firewise Foundation and many different Fire Safe Councils to understand their priorities. The Board should support these efforts and also develop a more holistic approach to land management that includes issues like habitat preservation and groundwater storage as well as wildfire prevention.

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: As a Planning Commissioner, I have often raised concerns about development in remote areas (which are also often areas of low water availability and high fire risk.) I have voted against projects where I think these factors present too much of a risk and a drain on resources.

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: On one side of the issue, applicants own land that is zoned AW, and they have gone through the environmental review process to develop vineyards with a mitigation plan – a type of use that is permitted in the AW. On the other side, neighbors and other community members are concerned about the very large scope of the project, the scale and degree of impact in terms of habitat loss, the potential for damage to downstream watercourses, and the loss of carbon sequestration capacity when the trees are removed.

If I were on the Board, I would have voiced a range of concerns, including: the scale of the project; the certainty, effectiveness, timing, and monitoring provisions of planned mitigations; and the location and strategy of any planned conservation easements.

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: To my knowledge, no one with an active or agendized planning application has reached out to donate money to my campaign. I periodically receive an updated calendar from the Planning Director with several months’ worth of agenda items, so I can have some sense of upcoming applications in the short term at least; and this is an ongoing process of checking. If I were to receive a donation from such an applicant that created a conflict of interest for my review process, I would return it.

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: I have spent time thinking about this issue myself, and have asked this question of friends and colleagues in the Latinx community over the past several months. Going door to door for my campaign, I need to think about times when folks will be home from work, for example. Braulio Munoz, a friend and Spanish speaking volunteer, has been instrumental in helping me start conversations and learn what folks are concerned about.

Napa City Councilman Bernie Narvaez told me that his strategy is to increase engagement in the Latinx community – which means that it’s important to think about (a) what are the interests and needs of Latinx residents, and (b) what are the times and formats of outreach that make sense. Do people have time to go to meetings after work? Probably not. But, as a parent of a soccer player, I know there are a lot of folks coming to weekend games to cheer their kids on, and they might have time then to think about issues. Julio Olguin, who runs St. Helena Preschool for All, has a strategy for participation with the parents he serves. He asks them to attend short classes, where they learn about school strategies for their kids, but also about the importance of advocating for kids. He says this can translate into more engaged and participatory parents in the school system and the larger community.