Eyes on Napa: Meet the Candidate for District 4 who is “Putting Locals First”

Napa Vision 2050 is endorsing candidate
Amber Manfree for District 4 Supervisor of Napa County

Amber Manfree’s kick-off event on December 6th was lively and well attended, with an enthusiastic crowd of supporters. As she began her talk to the gathered group, she said: “I want to first acknowledge that we are now standing on Patwin and Wappo land.” It was a powerful moment as she gave respect to the first peoples of this valley.She is refreshingly candid, informed, and we believe highly qualified with the education and expertise that she brings to the table. Considering that the Napa County Board of Supervisors primarily makes land-use decisions, most of which impact the county for decades, we feel that a candidate who is a land-use expert should be on that board. Amber Manfree is that expert. 

We spoke with her recently and bring you this interview:

Why are you running for the Board of Supervisors? 
“I am running for the Napa County Board of Supervisors for two reasons. I don’t feel represented as a voter who cares about quality of life for residents, and I see a need for science in decision-making at all levels of government. As a voter, I’m concerned that Napa County is experiencing policy drift. By failing to follow the spirit of important land use policies adopted in past decades, we are eroding the agricultural heritage and healthy landscapes that make this place a treasure. As a scientist, I’ve addressed the Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors several times, and I have been disappointed in their lack of responsiveness to facts. If science that can help with problem-solving is getting lost in translation to policy, then scientists must step into policy-crafting roles.”
What do you bring to the board which is lacking at this time?
“My training in geography gives me a strong skill set for solving planning problems. I’ve spent the past 20 years working on natural resources issues like climate change, water quality, and disaster response for regional and state-wide areas. The present Board of Supervisors would be strengthened by representatives like me, with a background in natural resources science and management.Many of the topics addressed by the Board of Supervisors involve long-term planning and development trends affecting the whole county. The core work of the Board of Supervisors is setting direction with the General Plan, steering land use in areas outside of city boundaries, and overseeing County agencies. Supervisors are often faced with competing expert opinions in land use cases. I will lead with confidence, applying my training to assess study methods and big-picture impacts.Using science as the basis for planning brings people together, and that’s always good for communities. One of the great things about figuring out how things work is that, once the pieces of a system are understood, people can focus on negotiating fair solutions. People don’t necessarily need to agree about politics to do this. There are some inspiring examples from around the state, like CalTrout’s Sacramento Valley Fish Food on Floodplains initiative or the Putah Creek Accord, in Yolo County. In these projects, researchers determined which changes would be most meaningful to improve outcomes for wildlife while also meeting the economic needs of farmers. These projects featured a stakeholder process similar to the Napa Flood Control Project and the Rutherford Reach Restoration. Engaging people affected by proposed projects in a process that allows them to contribute and be fully informed has many long-term benefits for communities.”

What do you see as the greatest challenges in our County government?
“Whether it is traffic, water security, or lack of affordability, our current challenges stem from a history of decision-making that has not placed the interests of locals first. Fostering the continued success of agriculture is critical; however, a balance has to be found between sustaining our economy and improving quality of life for residents. Centering policy on the principle of serving residents will allow us to shift toward a more affordable cost of living, better-planned infrastructure, and effective response to climate change.

The greatest challenge to the County government is climate change adaptation. The climate crisis is beginning to touch all of our lives, with fires, wind events, and extreme weather events like droughts and intense precipitation. It is becoming less conceptual and more real with every passing year. Policymakers are struggling to move fast enough to address the many interrelated causes and outcomes of global warming. Electing leaders like me, with comprehensive knowledge of climate change, is the easiest and most effective way to speed up Napa County’s response.

The climate change impacts that will likely affect Napa County the most will be nuances that affect our economy. Disruptions in commerce caused by wind and fire are already having substantial economic impacts, especially on small businesses. Wine grape growing conditions are shifting, with nights warming faster than days and dwindling fog cover. Wine and wine tourism are our main economic base at this time, and less stable growing conditions will present real challenges. Our community will benefit from leaders that can foresee needs that these types of events create, allowing them to be proactive rather than reactive.

Climate change solutions are closely related to policy on housing, traffic, and economic diversity for Napa County. Concentrating housing in cities, near existing infrastructure, and working to make urban areas more walk-able and bike-able will not only improve quality of life and health, but it will also reduce vehicle trips. In policy crafting, I will pursue pedestrian-friendly and bicycle-friendly options whenever possible. I will also work toward more robust public transit systems. Addressing housing and transit needs will require partnerships with both cities and the State of California, which I will work hard to improve and maintain.”

What are your background and education?
“I am a fifth-generation Napan with a Ph.D. in Geography. I was raised in the hills east of Rutherford, and attended Vichy Elementary and Vintage High School, graduating in 1995. Four years later, I earned a Bachelor’s degree in Environmental Studies at Sonoma State University.

I worked in a variety of jobs in Sonoma County during and after my undergraduate studies, including at Community Market Natural Foods, where I was Marketing Director and president and vice president of the Board of Directors; Grindstone Bakery, where I baked bread in a brick oven, and the farmer’s markets, where I sold salad greens. I worked for the Laguna de Santa Rosa Foundation as a field technician for invasive plant management projects. With the encouragement of colleagues, I decided to return to school for a graduate degree in Geography in 2006.

After earning a Master’s degree in 2012 and completing an award-winning dissertation about landscape change in Suisun Marsh in 2014, I completed four years of post-doctorate research, co-authoring a book on floodplain ecology and a report on natural resources management outcomes of the governor’s 2012 Drought Emergency Declaration. After completing my post-doctoral research, I founded a consulting business for map-making, or cartography, and geospatial analysis. I also teach Geographic Information Systems courses for UC Continuing and Professional Education.

I live with my mother and grandmother in our family home and greatly value the time I spend with them.”

What qualities and qualifications would you consider in the planning commissioner you appoint?
“Qualifications I consider important in a Planning Commissioner are training or experience in a planning-oriented field or in policy development, research skills, and a working knowledge of Napa County issues, procedures, rules, and codes of county government. Strong communication skills are required to support effective collaboration with other Planning Commissioners, constituents, county staff, and the Board of Supervisors. My appointee will work to understand the impacts of proposed projects and will consider project outcomes on the community as a whole.

Qualities I consider important in a Planning Commissioner are an inquisitive mind, great listening skills, a willingness to look beyond staff and participating experts to understand the full suite of project impacts, and openness to partnerships with neighboring jurisdictions to ensure that our projects do not create unintended consequences for one another.  A Planning Commissioner should also have a passion for long-term planning for Napa County, holding the health and welfare of our residents and our natural environment as central considerations.”

Have you worked in government before?
“I have worked extensively in the University of California system as a research assistant, teaching assistant, post-doctoral scholar, and educator. As a consultant, I serve a wide variety of clients throughout the state, with projects that often center on policy impacts.”

What is your schedule for events, etc., where people can meet you?
“I will participate in a candidate debate at the Napa Public Library on January 29, 2020. [See below for details.] I am also available to meet individuals or groups by appointment at Umpqua Bank, 1500 Soscol Ave., Napa. Please contact me if you are interested in hosting meet-and-greet or fundraising events at: admanfree@gmail.com
Website: ambermanfreeforsupervisor2020.com ”

Save the Date!
Wednesday, January 29, 2020
6:30-8 pm
Napa Main Library
Candidate’s Environmental Forum
Co-hosted by Napa Vision 2050, Get a Grip on Growth,
and Friends of Napa River