During a business-oriented forum at the Napa Valley Wine Train depot Wednesday night, candidates for Napa mayor and city council responded to a series of prepared questions before moderator Ira C. Smith turned to a question card from the audience.
“How do you plan to integrate the Latino community?” was the first part of the question on the card. The second part asked candidates for their thoughts on “illegals.”
The candidates were virtually unanimous in agreeing that for integration to occur, Napa’s Latino community must have more representation at all levels of city leadership.
“If you don’t see someone who looks like you (in positions of leadership), I don’t think you feel a motivation to become integrated into the community,” said mayoral candidate and city council member Peter Mott. “I think you still feel 'on the outside.'”
Mott told the audience that “Absolutely the most important thing is to have Latino leadership,” on the city council and city boards, commissions and committees.
“I think our Latino community is completely underserved,” Mott said.
Council incumbent Jim Krider agreed: “The Latino community is the backbone of our community,” he said.
“They’ve made us what we are, and they’re one of most underrepresented groups of people in our community.”
Council candidate Charlie Rose offered to give up his seat on the city’s Community Development Block Grant committee to a Latino resident.
Council candidate Bill Bopf, a former Napa city manager in the 1980s, agreed that city leadership “should reflect the makeup of the community.”
Latinos make up “38 percent of our community, more than 50 percent of our schools,” said council candidate Alfredo Pedroza, himself the son of immigrants.
“When we have representation, things will change,” Pedroza said.
Council candidate Doris Gentry, who educates foster parents in Napa County, spoke of her efforts to recruit Spanish-speaking foster families, going from none to 13 this year.
Council candidate Scott Sedgley, a former member of the Napa Valley Unified School District board of trustees, said the real work of integration is going on in local schools.
“They’ve been doing that for a lot of years, and doing a great job,” Sedgley said. “Our schools, our education system has done our work for us.”
Mayor Jill Techel called the California DREAM (Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors) Act legislation “a great leap forward.”
Council candidate Alex Pader, whose father is Filipino, also emphasized education, one of his keynote topics.
Napa candidates also generally agreed that enforcing legal U.S. residency is a responsibility of the federal government.
While Sedgley said local employers “have to take a bit of responsibility for that issue,” Bopf appeared to speak for most of the panel when he said “We can’t deal with that on a local level.”
“My biggest concern is the children,” Krider said. “I would do what I could to protect the children.”
“Our police will follow the federal law, but we really have a different feeling about immigrants,” said Techel. “Having immigrants here has only enriched us.”
Mott said it’s been a policy of the current city council to focus its efforts on the Napa community and decline action on matters over which it has no jurisdiction, such as immigration law.
“We have so much (here) that needs to be done,” he said.
Pedroza agreed that “there are not many things the city council can do” about the problem of undocumented residents, and cited a Community Foundation of Napa Valley report he said indicates the Latino community “happens to contribute more than $1 billion to the Napa GDP.”
Gentry reminded the unidentified questioner that the term “illegals” has been replaced by “undocumented workers.”
“We need to do a paradigm shift and change our thinking,” said Gentry, who indicated that she supports providing a path to legal residency and citizenship for undocumented immigrants.
“Many undocumented people came here as children by no will of their own, said Pader.
“Without our undocumented workers, our grapes would rot on the vine and we wouldn’t be the county that we are.”
Wednesday's candidate forum was hosted by the Napa Downtown Association. Barber Steve Pierce was timekeeper, striking a vintage San Francisco cable car bell when candidates went over their allotted speaking time.
The audience for the forum skewed noticeably younger than similar candidate events, thanks to the presence of more than a dozen political studies students from New Technology High School who joined their teacher Nancy Hale at the event.