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

Matt Hooper (MH): I do not personally know each of the other candidates so I am reluctant to try and distinguish the differences between us. But I can tell you what I want to bring to the Supervisor role. I am a person that wants to find the right answer–even if that answer may not be entirely pleasing to some. And here is something I am passionate about: Our county government must not be corrupted by the influence of money. I have zero conflicts of interest. I am not owned by any interest groups. I have not taken any large winery donations. I have no family or relatives that work for any of the Valley’s large corporate entities. I do not have real estate interests that could align with, or against, development proposals. For those who wish to donate I welcome the help, but let it be known that no donor is purchasing my allegiance to vote for (or against) their projects or agendas.

Each action, project, idea and issue that I encounter will be measured against three simple, but incredibly important themes: First and foremost, government must not be for sale. Even the appearance of impropriety is damaging to the public trust;
Secondly, board actions must respect and preserve the beauty, sustainability and quality of life in our gorgeous valley and across our tree-covered hillsides.
Third, actions proposed at the Board level must reflect smart, tailored, creative and fiscally responsible solutions to the issues we face in the valley: Fire, water, housing, etc.

I certainly don’t have all the answers, but I will be working non-stop to listen and collaborate with my fellow supervisors, and all our residents, to find solutions that are new and bold. Staff is important, but bold leadership needs to come out of the heads of the supervisors.

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

MH: My overall sense is that the Board of Supervisors may be veering too far in the direction of supporting development and expansion. To be clear, I am not anti-winery or anti-business, but I do want to be mindful of respecting a critical and informed balance that protects the resources, sustainability and beauty of our valley and hillsides while at the same time allowing the important economic drivers of the valley–viticulture and tourism–to remain vibrant and attractive.

Sadly, it seems more evident to me that the influence of money may be getting in the way of striking this balance properly. I believe we need to support the many and varied existing business interests in the valley, including the hundreds of wineries and other tourism businesses, but I share the concerns that many of the folks in my district–and throughout the entire county–have about traffic, water usage and clear-cutting for vines.

Your readers should understand that I am in no way hostile to the viticulture and tourism interests of the valley. How could I be? They are the economic lifeblood of the valley. However, Measures J and P are an institutional bedrock of the Napa Valley. I recall this great quote from Volker Eisele: “The Napa Valley is too valuable an asset to be endangered every Tuesday morning.” That very concern is why Measure C was presented. It was a close call, and until a revised version of this initiative can be surfaced, I think (and hope) that the Board can achieve through its review process the spirit of C. I will certainly be an advocate for that. I think the economics of the Valley will survive if we adopt a presumption that old growth trees should not be replaced with vineyards.

I moved to the Napa Valley 22 years ago because of the indescribable beauty here. I will not support actions that could endanger not only that beauty, but the sustainability of our resources for future generations.

That said, let me repeat what I said above. I am data-driven. When proposals come before the Board, I will be reviewing them fairly and with an open and analytical mind. I am not an automatic “no” on winery or development proposals. I should be clear about that. But, as I said, my overall instincts lean strongly toward preserving and protecting what we have so that our children and grandchildren can experience that same beauty.

Proposals that call for removing old-growth trees for vineyard development will require a heavy burden of proof that proposed climate directed mitigations are credible and sufficient. (see my comments on Walt., below).

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

MH: I have been a member of the LGBTQ community since the tender age of 14 (50 years ago!) — that was long before we found it necessary to come up with capitalized acronyms! I’m a gay man, it doesn’t define who I am, and I have not given it any special emphasis in my personal or professional life. Some folks know that about me, and some don’t. Welcome to the year 2022 and California–it should not matter to anyone who I choose to love.

My leadership on the Board of Supervisors will extend the same degree of fairness and respect to the LGBTQ+ community that I will extend to all our residents.

My life experiences are those of a person that has touched on the issues raised in your question–some more than others.

I was born and raised in a diverse, racially mixed working-class neighborhood of urban Philadelphia (the Mount Airy/Germantown section) in which the majority of residents were Black. I experienced minority status for a significant portion of my public school experience through the 8th grade. Frankly, I didn’t give it a second thought. My high school (LaSalle—Christian Brothers) was less diverse, but still geared to working-class families of any color or creed. I played lead trumpet in the high school band. One of my classmates, a black kid, played 2nd chair. We were very close and remain friends to this day. He is now a judge in Pennsylvania.

Let me say something here that I am passionate about: I am color blind. Oddly, that trait seems somewhat out of favor these days as we seem to have a growing tendency to place everyone into this or that differentiated category. Honestly, I think we need to do less of that. Without regard to our various affiliations, we have so much in common to be proud of and thankful for. I believe that over-emphasizing our differences, which seems more of a trend these days, can become antithetical to civic decency and neighborly collaboration. But I digress.

More about my personal journey:
In the mid 80’s, I volunteered for an aids support group. Honestly, I struggled with that and was gently converted to an honorary member because the leadership of the group kept trying to deprogram my alpha tendencies to “do everything” instead of acting as a support liaison for the persons with aids that we were helping. My intentions were good, but I hadn’t quite mastered the role!

In the late 80’s I volunteered for about 2+ years in a literacy program in Chicago. Better outcomes, here. My charge was a young black man whose reading level was very poor, almost non-existent. The program gave me materials to use, but Dwayne and I ended up spending Saturdays at my home reading and discussing the Chicago Tribune. Dwayne’s ambition was to be accepted into the IBEW (International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers). When the improvement in his reading comprehension enabled him to do that, I attended the induction ceremony. Dwayne invited me to his small apartment in one of the worst housing projects in Chicago (It was either Cabrini Green, or Horner homes–memory is failing me here). I asked him if I would be safe. He said, as long as you’re with me, you’ll be fine. I broke bread with Dwayne and his Mom. As I look back on this, I see Dwayne’s assurance of my safety as a reminder that we need to be there for each other.

In the 90’s I did two years of Meals on Wheels and Habitat for Humanity while I was employed as a patent Attorney at Abbott Labs in North Chicago.

I admit, the last twenty years have seen less “giving back” on my part, and more dealing with the pressures of my corporate patent job. But I retired two years ago, and the residents of the 3rd district will have my full attention!

I am passionate about equal opportunity. But I add my own wrinkle: equal, attainable, opportunity. Our less advantaged residents may need a hand up to reach opportunities that we like to say are available to all, but often are not. I am all for that helping hand when it is designed in ways that can have real and positive effects. For example, if some of our kids are performing better in school than others, let’s find ways to help the underperforming students raise their game, without depriving the opportunity of all students to excel to their full potential. The Board of Supervisors should address and work to remedy circumstances and conditions that may handicap or deprive our underserved and disadvantaged residents from reaching and attaining the opportunities that must be available and attainable for everyone. This isn’t a republican or democratic idea. It’s common sense.

On the question of racism: I continue to believe the best solution, on the heels of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, was revealed over 50 years ago by a modern-day prophet, and we must never abandon it. “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” That prophet, MLK, also said: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.”

Are we there yet? No. Can we get there? I absolutely believe in my heart that we can, and we must.

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

MH: Our Napa Climate and ecosystem is fragile and subject to all the changes in weather, water and fire that impact our valley. Our grapes and the natural beauty that envelops us are the main attractions supported by the ag preserve and the Land Trust. This is a special place of special beauty that demands my commitment in ensuring that it stays that way.

So yes, climate is critical, it matters, and how we deal with it matters. But I do not hold myself out as an expert on climate change. I will look to organizations such as yours to educate and inform me. But one thing about me you should be clear about: My determination to protect and preserve the beauty and sustainability of our beautiful valleys and hillsides travels in a common lane with concerns over climate change. My mind is open, and I believe goals of sustainability, conservation and preservation are matters of great importance for the Board.

However, on this point I should add that my legal and judicial temperament will not allow for unsupported or unscientific assertions that do not make a compelling case for this or that proposed action (or denial of action). For example, we should not rule out the possibility that a project as flawed and controversial as Walt could somehow be brought into a zone of acceptability where climate concerns are credibly and fairly addressed. Sadly, that has not (yet) happened. See more on that below.

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?

MH: Refer to my answers on number 4. While climate change is not my strongest point of understanding, I am always ready to listen to organizations like yours to bring me up to speed. I support the development of a Climate Action Plan. As I understand it, such a plan should provide a consistent climate-aware template of criteria, a roadmap if you will, for reviewing development decisions, so that a clear and consistent approach can be agreed upon, up front, and implemented. The development of a stated “climate roadmap” for board decisions will certainly help to alleviate public concern that each proposal is a “one off” that might be riding on the financial generosity of the permit applicant toward any of the Supervisors. “Follow the plan,” beats “follow the money.”

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?

MH: Our water resources are fragile. More years of limited rain and we will be in a worse crisis than we are now. I will support actions by the Board to develop and implement plans to ensure water security to the greatest extent reasonable, fair and economically sensible. Again, show me the data. My mind is open. Generally speaking, we should not have situations where a winery development is permitted to consume so much water (especially when based on outdated rainfall estimates!) that nearby residents may be deprived of sufficient water for daily use, much less fighting fires. Insurance companies are already fleeing the state or charging exorbitant rates for fire insurance. This is a huge issue. The connection between fire insurance and water scarcity is lost on no one.

Board actions aimed at maintaining sustainable watershed resources is something I strongly favor, but I must look to expertise, including yours, on how best to address that. I believe every new winery or vineyard development proposal must credibly address this concern. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, I’m listening.

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

MH: We need trees. We need to preserve our mature trees. It takes 20 – 40 years to get mature trees like the ones some would sacrifice for vineyards. And worse, look at the water it will take to grow those trees back! Seedlings planted to address greenhouse mitigation? Not credible. I have a hard time envisioning circumstances where I would be comfortable approving projects that require clear-cutting hillside forests to make room for more vineyards unless climate mitigations are meaningful, credible and sufficient.

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?

MH: Fires are a nightmare and we must get ahead of this risk. I am having conversations with various fire experts on ways we can be stronger on the response end of the fire situation. In Napa we not only do not deputize residents to assist, we fine our helpful residents and threaten them with jail for trying to save homes and communities. That is flat out crazy. Got a bulldozer? Bring it! Also, regarding water usage–proposals that threaten water availability in high fire areas make no sense to me.

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?

MH: You probably can guess where I stand on this. I would have voted with Diane and Brad. The proposed greenhouse gas mitigation plan (approved by a potentially conflicted Board in December) is a climate fig leaf that only high paid lawyers and a determined corporate entity could posit as credible or plausible.

If I check into the hospital with a life-threatening illness that could kill me in a few days, what use is a potential cure that won’t kick in for several weeks. I’ll be dead. Outdated rainfall estimates? Ridiculous. The folks in Circle Oaks are furious. Contributing lands that are undevelopable (sleeves out of your vest, right?). Bribing the public by offering to double an already useless mitigation if no appeal is filed? Cynical and insulting.

And now, let’s add the unfortunate complication of possible corruption. In fairness to Supervisor Pedroza, I am not rushing to judgment on this, but in my opinion the possible financial synergies between his family’s land holdings and the adjacent the Walt property raises eyebrows. Not sure where this lands, but I think his recusal on this matter should be permanent. We shall see. His recusal coming only after the details of his family’s land holdings emerged does not lend credibility to the recent determination by the FPPC that there is no conflict of interest. I question whether the FPPC advice was rendered a little too quickly to be correct.

These latest Walt developments lead back to two of the central pillars of my candidacy. First, government is not for sale, and neither am I. Secondly, we must protect and preserve the beauty and sustainability of the valley and hillsides.
Again, in fairness to Mr. Pedroza, I have not reached any conclusion–nor am I in a position to make any allegation–that he has sold out to the Halls. Per current FPPC law, the fact that he has taken significant contributions does not establish that. Nor do his family’s land acquisitions establish that. However, in my opinion, the totality of circumstances present a potential conflict of interest that I believe give the public reason to lose confidence in the integrity of the County’s approval processes.
When it comes to my candidacy, I can assure you that I am not for sale, and I will not sell out our valley to development interests. There is a profoundly important reason why the Napa valley does not look like the Santa Clara valley. Those reasons are not going away on my watch.

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

MH: No.

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

MH: Such a great question. Most of the Spanish speaking residents that I encounter want to learn English and they want to become citizens but it takes many years with significant costs. What a shame. It is critical that we offer English classes for free to those who want them and citizenship classes as well. I’d like the County to set up a fund for this to help those who want to become a citizen to obtain that coveted status. Our communities are changing and it is time to honor these residents and embrace them. Let’s help them in every possible way. Housing. Language. Citizenship. Recalling my friend Dwayne from the literacy program, my message to our Spanish speaking community is “We’ve got your back!”