Monday, September 28, 2015

The Far Side of Eden 17: Democracy!

Note: This series of excerpts from my second Napa book begins with the June 2015 postings in the menu to the right.                                           

      KATHRYN WINTER received a telephone call from a friend in Napa. This friend informed her that a woman was going around Kathryn’s district saying she was running for supervisor and talking about “saving the hillsides.” Kathryn made some calls and learned that the woman was Chris Malan. She couldn’t believe it. Why would Chris undertake anything so reckless? She telephoned Chris and asked if she was running, and Chris said yes, just to keep the hillside issue before the public. Kathryn asked her to come to her condo off the Silverado Trail so they could discuss the matter, thinking there was still time to get a handle on this.
      A fourth-generation San Franciscan, Kathryn had grown up in the Central Valley and witnessed the destruction of farmland there and near Chico, where she had taught school for a time. She deplored what had transpired around Stanford University, with the proliferation of the computer companies, and didn’t want something similar to happen to Napa Valley.
      Her voting as a supervisor indicated this, but she was an environmentalist with a small e. She had carefully distanced herself from the more radical elements of the movement, and her refusal to appoint Chris to the Watershed Task Force had proven this. The decision irked Chris, but it was done in good faith because Kathryn wanted the task force, an experiment in civic cooperation, to work. Chris’s presence was always polarizing.
      Although Kathryn had supported the moratorium on new steroid houses in the hills, she had refused to oppose all vineyard development up there. She had joined with others in condemning the Sierra Club lawsuit as divisive and potentially damaging. There was so much at stake, not the least of which was Kathryn’s job, and Chris had to be made to understand this.
      She didn’t show up for the meeting. Kathryn was scheduled to go door-to-door canvassing with a local supporter at lunchtime, and had to cancel. That was a squandering of valuable support, but she figured the meeting with Chris was more important.
      The longer Kathryn waited, the angrier she got. Finally Chris arrived, three hours late, having been up in an airplane, leaning out the window taking more photographs of hillside destruction. All over the valley now, whenever people heard or saw a helicopter, they said, “There’s Chris Malan,” and often it was. Cold, tired, in a foul mood, Chris told Kathryn, without preliminaries, “I’m running against Bill Dodd, not against you.”
      Kathryn pointed out that Chris would in fact be running against both of them. Doing so, she would split the environmental vote and perhaps siphon off enough of it to force the election into a runoff. Possibly—unthinkably—she could throw the whole thing to the Chamber of Commerce candidate at the outset. Kathryn assured her that, after the election, she would sit down with her and work out a plan for the watershed, if only Chris would reconsider.
      But Chris didn’t seem to be listening. She said she wouldn’t run if Kathryn signed a piece of literature calling for tough new regula tions for the hillsides, and if she put together a meeting with the big vintners and brought Chris along to talk to them about the problems. Kathryn said she would think about it, knowing that such a meeting would be a fiasco, that it would lose votes, not gain them.
Chris seemed to her intransigent, dogmatic, either misunderstanding the consequences of what she was doing or indifferent to them.
      Kathryn had been carrying water for the environmentalists for years. Now, when she needed them, Chris was threatening to turn the election into a personal vendetta against her and everyone who had, at one time or another in the past, dismissed her or simply not gone along with some aspect of Chris’s agenda. Kathryn thought this was the result of several things: Chris’s exposure in the media, the strong reaction to the Sierra Club lawsuit by everybody from the county counsel to the Napa Valley Vintners Association, the heady rush of power, and Chris’s access to Mennen money.
      Chris’s ultimate goal, Kathryn now believed, was not a moratorium on new hillside development but an end to all agriculture in the hills, period. That, or nothing. Win, or take the ship down in a blaze of self-destructive glory.
      Everyone was calling, telling Chris not to run. This included even her friends in the Sierra Club. She told them, “Dodd won’t win.”
She had talked to him, she added. Dodd didn’t know diddly about the hillsides. “Who will be in the runoff?” Chris then asked, and answered her own question. “Kathryn and Dodd, that’s who.” And then Chris would work for Kathryn during the runoff campaign; she would keep the hillside issue before the public, going door-to-door, as she was doing now, saying, “Let’s talk, people.”
      In the end, Kathryn would be reelected because voters hated development in the hills. No one would be able to deny why Kathryn had been reelected—the hills!—least of all Kathryn Winter.
Volker Eisele called and argued with Chris. She could well get Kathryn defeated, he told her, which would be a major environmental disaster. When she disagreed, Volker shouted at her. She didn’t know what she was doing, he said; her motives were murky. Chris hung up thinking Volker was too close to agriculture.
      She got a call from Ginny Simms, a fellow member of Friends of the Napa River with whom Chris had worked on other projects. They were both totally committed, and they met and talked for two hours. Ginny was a walking database who worked on elections all the time, but she admitted that she didn’t know a lot about the watershed. She vowed to work for it anyway if Chris would just reconsider. “Don’t run against Kathryn,” she pleaded.
      “Kathryn won’t do what’s needed,” Chris told her. Kathryn would have to agree to walk door-to-door with Chris, handing out the signed literature denouncing hillside vineyards, before Chris would consider withdrawing her name. Ginny said she would talk to Kathryn about this possibility. “I’ll get back to you on that,” she added, but she never did.
                                       (Next: Wash-up)                                                                 
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