Napa Vision 2050 (NV): Why are you running and what sets you apart from the other candidates in your district?
John Dunbar (JD): My nearly 18 years in public service includes engagement in numerous local, regional, state and national organizations that have enhanced the skills and network of colleagues I have developed to be an effective, solutions-oriented local leader. I seek to expand my elected leadership role on Napa County’s Board of Supervisors.
I regularly collaborate with residents, as well as community and business leaders, to share the knowledge I have gained and the resources available through these organizations and in partnership with my state and federal colleagues. I also listen to and value input from advocacy groups that offer additional information and perspective I can then evaluate as part of my decision-making process on issues.
I was appointed to the Yountville Town Council in 2004 and elected in 2006. I was first elected Yountville’s Mayor in 2010, and was reelected for two additional four-year terms.
I became a member of the U.S. Conference of Mayors and National League of Cities, to complement my longtime membership in the League of California Cities. Through these national and statewide local government advocacy organizations, I continue to build personal relationships with other elected officials and professional staff allowing me to be a part of influential discussions about legislative activity before, during and after bills have been passed in the State Capitol and in Congress.
In 2019-20, I was President of the Cal Cities Board of Directors, an organization that represents all 482 cities and towns throughout California, and I served as Immediate Past President in 2020-21. I was a Board member from 2016 to 2021, and have played a pivotal role in negotiations with state and federal legislators advocating for laws that protect and serve the interests of Napa County and our North Bay region.
I sit on numerous local and regional boards and commissions, including the Napa Valley Transportation Authority, Napa County Flood Control & Water Conservation District, Napa County League of Governments, Yountville’s Tourism Improvement District, and MCE Board of Directors (alternate).
I was a 2012 Governor’s appointee to California’s 25th District Agricultural Association (Napa Expo) Board of Directors, where I served as President for six years and continue as a Director. In 2015-16, I served as Vice Chair of the County’s Agricultural Protection Advisory Committee, and represented the interests of the municipalities in that process.
I have worked closely with my Napa County colleagues for years on the issues and policies important to our residents, business owners and groups committed to the preservation of the Napa Valley as a natural treasure.
During my leadership, Yountville has implemented numerous initiatives and operations that prioritize environmental sustainability and protection, including gas-powered leaf blower and pesticide bans, methane recapture and solar energy systems, electric vehicle charging stations at municipal facilities, a recycled water program that treats more than 90% of our wastewater, and a tree protection and replanting policy.
I believe my record of successful elected service in Yountville, leadership through Cal Cities and other legislative advocacy organizations, and an established network of connections at local, regional, state and national levels of government make me the best candidate for District 3 Napa County Supervisor.
NV: What areas need improvement for the BOS? What are your solutions/suggestions?
JB: Looking ahead, many of us likely agree key priorities for Napa County include financial sustainability, public health, wildfire protection, housing affordability, climate initiatives, water stability and traffic solutions. However, strong and collaborative leadership extends beyond a single issue or agenda.
I have a city/town leadership perspective that is lacking on the Board of Supervisors, even while more than 80% of the County’s population lives in the cities and town. We need the County to be a supportive partner that respects and works with leaders in our cities and town, as well as in our unincorporated communities.
We need a Napa County government that is collaborative and efficient, serves all residents, businesses and industries fairly, and delivers results.
We need individuals with the leadership skills and experience to handle our challenges as well as the “normal” workload and community outreach. During my tenure as Mayor, that has included wildfires, climate change, drought and floods, public health orders, gun violence, earthquakes, power outages, and business interruptions.
We need leadership that supports people whose career paths take them outside the classroom and the office cubicle. Some people prefer to work with their hands – to grow things, to build things, and to fix things. Entrepreneurship has helped build this County and should be embraced.
I am proud of the disciplined fiscal management Yountville has prioritized during my tenure on the Town Council. We have passed balanced budgets every year I’ve been on the Council. Despite multiple disasters, as well as economic, climate and public health challenges, we have maintained healthy reserves and avoided cuts to staffing and services because of our long- term planning. Unfortunately, not all of our local jurisdictions have positive financial outlooks, with serious fiscal hardship looming.
I recognize that a Supervisor’s job includes much more than land use and policy. Understanding the inner workings of County and city budgets and the associated operations is critical, especially given the decades of institutional knowledge that’s retiring from the Board.
NV: What are your personal actions and involvements in advocacy for our social inequities? (such as housing, food insecurity, language access, LGBTQ+, racism, etc.)
JB: As an elected official, it’s my responsibility to develop and support government programs and services that advance diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging for all individuals.
I have encouraged my elected colleagues and staff to look through an equity lens at every process and decision to ensure fairness and justice for all.
In 2009, I authored Yountville’s Equal Rights Resolution that highlighted our community’s support of marriage equality and commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging. Under my leadership, in 2019, Yountville adopted a resolution establishing a Flag Policy and Ceremonial Flag Pole, which has led to the Town displaying the Rainbow Flag during LGBTQ+ Pride Month every June.
In 2020-21, I helped form and co-chair the League of California Cities Advancing Equity Advisory Committee tasked with providing education and resources for municipal leaders to review all our institutions through an equity lens and enact reforms as needed to avoid discrimination and to ensure a welcoming and respectful atmosphere in all 482 cities across our state.
For the past year, I have been working to create a similar program in Napa County that’s based on the National League of Cities’ “Race, Equity and Leadership” (REAL) program, recruiting a diverse group of residents, business leaders and elected officials with a similar mission of support and inclusion throughout our community.
We should prioritize workforce development and affordable housing to support local workers at all social-economic levels.
Providing housing that’s more affordable and apprenticeship opportunities for under- represented populations can build our local workforce and attract future members of our community.
I’ve been working for years with representatives from the California departments of Veterans Affairs, General Services and Housing & Community Development to build below-market housing at the Yountville Veterans Home. We are very close to a successful outcome that would bring as many as 150 new affordable housing units to the middle of the valley.
This effort was accelerated by Governor Newsom’s executive order in 2019 to make surplus state-owned properties priority sites for housing development. I was instrumental in making sure an undeveloped area of the California Veterans Home property was included on the state’s list.
This is an example of a creative solution that would provide a local housing option and reduce or eliminate out-of-county commutes by a large number of employees, while also providing supportive housing for military veterans and other underserved populations.
Napa County owns parcels in cities that could be similar candidates for housing development. Related to the challenges associated with food insecurity, I have contributed to Hands Across the Valley for more than 15 years to support that organization’s effort to provide reliable food security for Napa County residents. Since the start of the pandemic, we have seen a dramatic increase in the number of residents who need assistance, and we must continue to help fund and support programs coming from public health and non-profit organizations, as well as local government.
NV: Talk a little about your personal journey to understanding climate change. If you ever had a call to action, what was it?
JB: Awareness about natural and human impacts to our environment and climate has grown significantly since the 1980s.
I remember seeing images of melting polar ice caps, deforestation in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest, severe pollution in China – but all those scenes were half a world away. Initially, it was difficult to appreciate the global and long-term impacts.
The term “global warming” focused on the temperature of the earth’s surface, but it was used to misrepresent and politicize the role human behavior and natural conditions played in changing our climate and natural environment. Some claimed the planet’s rising temperature was insignificant and of no concern since we still experienced cold winter storms.
In 2006, the documentary film “An Inconvenient Truth” was an example of dismissing scientific evidence of climate change. I think that was directly related to the involvement of former Vice President Al Gore, which allowed naysayers to claim it was only a Democratic Party talking point.
I traveled to Beijing, China, in 2013 with local wine business leaders on an economic development mission promoting Yountville and Napa Valley as a global tourist destination. During that week, it was eye-opening to experience in person the level of pollution that existed in that city and the region. Locals we met considered the air quality to be good during our visit because we could see blue sky through the smoggy haze.
More recently, we have experienced increases in the frequency and intensity of extreme weather, the severity and duration of storms and wildfires, and risks to our air and water quality. The reasons and levels of responsibility for these conditions continue to be debated, but it appears undeniable human behavior plays a significant role.
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?
JB: During my tenure as Mayor, Yountville adopted a Climate Action Plan in 2016. We also identify and highlight specific elements in our 2019 Envision Yountville General Plan that provide climate protection and environmental sustainability.
Examples of effective initiatives and operations in Yountville that prioritize environmental sustainability and protection include gas-powered leaf blower and pesticide bans, methane recapture and solar energy systems, electric vehicle charging stations at municipal facilities, a recycled water program that treats more than 90% of our wastewater, and a tree protection and replanting policy.
The keys to Napa County’s success with climate initiatives that conserve natural resources and support waterways, watersheds, open space and wildlife are building effective partnerships and achieving successful outcomes.
Individual Napa County municipalities have shown a commitment to environmental sustainability and protection through reductions of reliance and even bans on gas-powered equipment and vehicle fleets, prohibition of the use of pesticides, installation of solar energy systems, tree protection and replanting policies, environmentally-sensitive and energy efficient building requirements, and irrigating with recycled municipal wastewater. Napa County can and should partner with these efforts already happening in the jurisdictions.
The agriculture and wine industries have displayed an awareness and commitment to supporting this effort by implementing sustainable vineyard management and farming practices that reduce water use, greenhouse gas emissions and increase carbon capture, proving that a healthy environment and climate and a healthy business sector and economy are not mutually exclusive.
We need to move past an adversarial narrative and forge partnerships across sectors with people and leaders who are willing to be strategic, innovative, and seek collaboration rather than confrontation. Funding and resources dedicated to wildfire mitigation, for example, also have direct benefits for environmental sustainability (e.g. natural habitat protection, as well as water quality and erosion control).
Also, we need to emphasize with our state and federal partners the need for them to more effectively manage lands under their jurisdiction in and around Napa County. In addition to working with CalFire, we should engage Fire Safe Councils and private property owners to develop environmentally-sensitive solutions that lower wildfire risk, build more resilient infrastructure and reduce damage to property and ecosystems.
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?
JB: Given the ongoing shift over many years to drier and more severe weather conditions, protection of our natural groundwater supply has grown in importance.
The lack of sufficient water storage in northern California has been a problem for decades. It’s acute in regions like the North Bay where land values are so high it’s extremely difficult to find land on which we could provide additional water storage that complements our existing dams and reservoirs.
A good course of action is to identify local solutions based on local conditions, which is the basis of the work being done by the Groundwater Sustainability Plan Advisory Committee to inform our management of groundwater. This plan includes strategies developed by all users of the basin to identify, mitigate, and alleviate potential issues before they become problems. This effort should include residential and other development that impacts our water supply.
A practical example of Napa’s agriculture industry leading in this space is the use of smart irrigation systems that dramatically reduce water use in vineyards and operations that decrease water used in production and cleaning. In addition, policies already in place, like the requirement to conduct a water availability analysis for projects, illustrate how the agriculture and wine industries play a role in responding to conditions.
Stakeholder groups like the Groundwater Resources Advisory Committee that use science and data to drive long-term groundwater sustainablility goals have shown that groups working together can find fair and effective solutions.
Another ongoing example is a partnership with the Town of Yountville, which recycles more than 90% of its wastewater. The Town contracts with several nearby homeowners, wineries, and vineyard owners to supply treated water for their uses, preserving onsite groundwater supplies.
Napa County needs to work more closely and beneficially with the municipalities to increase water supply and accessibility, provide long-term groundwater protection and secure reliable storage and delivery solutions.
NV: What is your understanding of current land use issues in regards to deforestation?
We need to emphasize with our state and federal partners the need to manage more effectively wildlands under their jurisdiction in and around Napa County. In addition to working with CalFire, we should engage Fire Safe Councils and private property owners to develop environmentally-sensitive solutions that lower wildfire risk, build more resilient infrastructure and reduce damage to property and ecosystems.
The Napa Resource Conservation District provides information to support healthy forests and natural habitat and wildlife while helping reduce risks of catastrophic wildfires. We need to acknowledge that in some cases that includes thinning overgrown wildlands with an emphasis on removing certain non-native and highly-flammable tree species and low-level fuels that accelerate fire intensity and spread.
I applaud Napa County’s creation of a Community Wildfire Protection Plan and research into technologies like artificial intelligence early warning systems and other firefighting resources. While state and federal partnerships for prevention and mitigation programs are important, allowing local communities to create their own customized strategies and policies based on conditions, topography, and practical, on the ground intelligence and data is crucial. The creation of one size fits all policies that don’t allow for local input and action will not accomplish fire prevention goals or environmental protection solutions.
As a member of the County’s Climate Action Committee, we are discussing the role vineyards play in fire suppression, the benefits of biochar for soil health and carbon capture, the effectiveness of shaded fuel breaks and options to standard vegetation burns. Evaluating and potentially activating ideas such as these makes sense.
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?
JB: Napa County and the individual jurisdictions can and should protect our watersheds and water supply, encourage and support water conservation, and embrace biodiversity in our natural environment. I would not limit that commitment to only high fire-prone areas because we cannot predict when or where fire may occur in our valley.
I’m an Oakland native and had close friends and their families directly impacted by the urban firestorm that took dozens of lives, injured many residents, and destroyed close to 3,000 homes in 1991. We all face that threat and need to find creative solutions to mitigation and preparedness in urban and rural settings.
As we face increased wildfire risk, drought conditions and concerns about water supply, local government officials are partnering with stakeholders to show how reasonable land management can complement state and federal fire protection, environmental sustainability and climate protection resources.
We continue to see innovation and new technology that adds efficiency and reliability to farming and wine production. Napa Green is an example of the industry standardizing responsible farming that protects natural habitats and wildlife, reduces reliance on groundwater, and maximizes operations that reduce carbon emissions and improve air quality. In addition, it shows the value of a voluntary, benefits-driven program that not only meets but often exceeds regulatory requirements.
As I stated in my answer to question #6, stakeholder groups like the Groundwater Resources Advisory Committee that use science and data to drive long-term groundwater sustainablility goals have shown that groups working together can find fair and effective solutions.
Another example is a partnership with the Town of Yountville, which recycles more than 90% of its wastewater. The Town contracts with several nearby homeowners, wineries, and vineyard owners to supply treated water for their uses, preserving onsite groundwater supplies. I will not speculate on potential decisions that might come before me in the future as a member of the Board of Supervisors. It would be inappropriate to prejudge or predetermine my opinion without knowledge of the facts.
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 Boardz/
JB: The Walt Ranch project, approved by the Board of Supervisors in 2016, permits Atlas Peak property owners to develop approximately 209 acres of their 2,300-acre wildland property into vineyards. The project includes the preservation of up to 124 acres of woodlands and a tree replanting requirement.
Opponents have argued the project will have significant negative environmental impacts, including but not limited to greenhouse gas emissions, water usage, oak tree removal and erosion control.
The Board’s majority approval determined the project complied with County laws. An appeal of the project approval was denied and subsequent environmental mitigation plan has been approved by the Board of Supervisors, but those decisions continue to be challenged.
Napa County Superior Court in 2018 found in favor of Napa County’s action on all issues except the GHG mitigation related to the proposed removal of 14,000 trees.
In 2019, the 1st District Court of Appeal ruled that the greenhouse gas mitigation plan must be revisited. Board action on the mitigation plan was scheduled for Feb. 8, but that matter was continued to a later date.
Not being privy to all the information and confidential communications related to this project, I will not speculate on hypothetical decisions I would have made or that I could make if this project were to come before me in the future as a member of the Board of Supervisors. It would be inappropriate to prejudge or predetermine my opinion, especially without access to and a thorough review of all information about this project.
I do share the concern about the environmental consequences of such a project.
As an aside, I have received no financial contributions from the property owners. To the best of my knowledge, I have not received campaign donations from any of the owners’ business employees, nor have I received donations from any of the individuals or organizations appealing the project approvals.
NV: Have any current or future land use applicants, to your knowledge, reached out to you to donate money or goods to your campaign?
I am not able to identify all applicants that may have business before Napa County. All of my campaign contributors of $100 or more are listed in my financial reports and available for public scrutiny.
I cannot speculate about future land use applicants or projects.
NV: What suggestions do you have to increase involvement and public participation for residents throughout the valley and especially those who are Spanish-speaking?
JB: Public outreach and collaboration are critical to be an effective public servant. I have made those priorities throughout my 18 years of elected service.
Awareness of and respect for the myriad ethnicities, cultures, spoken languages and other demographic characteristics leads to decision-making that serves our entire Napa County community.
Public information should be provided at least in Spanish and English, and in some cases additional languages. Some of our communities, like culturally diverse American Canyon, have dozens of languages spoken by residents and business owners.
Especially during emergencies and natural disasters, we have learned the life-saving importance of communicating to the non-English speaking population.
During the pandemic, I have been involved in generating content and creating strategies for outreach to non-English speakers in our community. In some cases, that’s reaching out through faith-based organizations, where trust and acceptance often is higher for receiving information and guidance that’s coming from government outlets.
I helped organize up valley COVID-19 testing and vaccination clinics in coordination with County public health officials, St. Helena Hospital Foundation, my fellow up valley Mayors and County leaders. In particular, we deployed mobile clinics to locations that provided safe and easy access for farmworkers and other members of our local workforce – including many non- English speakers – who were not comfortable or who could not travel to the standard testing and clinic sites provided for the general public.
We should recognize different demographics and cultures give and receive communication differently. Notable improvements have been made by Napa County and the jurisdictions, with Spanish translation being provided along with English messaging.
In Yountville, all public information is provided in English and Spanish, and we have Spanish- speaking staff available to communicate in bilingual settings.
Reaching out directly to our non-English speaking community members and asking what their needs are will help provide desired services and programs.
Together, by integrating various backgrounds and perspectives into our daily lives, we can strengthen and make more vibrant our Napa County community.