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Vantage Point: Potholes, water, and Pacaso
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Vantage Point: Potholes, water, and Pacaso

Few things reinvigorate faith in government more than filling potholes. It’s a government function that’s easily observed and immediately beneficial. Going back to last year, we’ve had an outbreak of potholes on Mitchell Drive, a short street on the west side. I know that Public Works was alerted, yet in at least one instance no acknowledgment nor substantive response was forthcoming.

But last month, there were visible signs, or more precisely, visible circles of progress. Someone had come out and spray painted the outline of each pothole. Then a few weeks later, the potholes were filled. Nicely done, city of St. Helena.

What can we learn from this episode? That progress can come from government, but it may be incremental and slow. Bureaucracies take time to act. We can hope that applies to the city’s water administration.

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Previously, this column highlighted citizen concern over the poor quality of our water. Going by comments made to me by numerous readers, a chord was struck. Improving water quality may be a matter of minerals and filters, but it also requires bureaucratic recognition. For the first time in recent memory, an elected official last month mentioned water quality. In a comprehensive overview published in the Star and Register, Councilwoman Anna Chouteau wrote “We need additional investments in our treatment and delivery systems to ensure that residents have clean and odor-free water to drink.”

Here we have a small indicator of progress.

We also need improvement on the administrative side of city water authority in the Finance Department. We deserve better invoices, perhaps built on software solutions from new vendors. We know intelligible water bills are available. A St. Helenan told me that his family previously lived in San Jose, and the water bills there are based on gallons and not mysterious “units.” Billing frustration here has been magnified by the city jumping from invoicing every other month to each month and then back again to six times a year.

There was bureaucratic genius built into the schedule changes. Several years ago, when the switch was made to monthly bills, the amount due for most of us stayed pretty much the same. But that meant effectively a doubling of the rates. Except that it didn’t seem painful, since the dollars didn’t change. This was a breathtakingly impressive bureaucratic move. Let’s have some of that creativity applied to our bills when it comes to intelligibility.

Our city government has a clear and straightforward role to play in the popular response against the Pacaso timesharing. That would be a strong and ongoing defense against Pacaso’s civil suit attacking us and a permanent offensive against timeshares. The city should be aware that the national media is now covering the Pacaso entry into North Bay communities.

The headline writer in the Wall Street Journal’s look at Napa and Sonoma Pacaso activity sensibly concluded that the scheme was yet another timesharing plan and put that defining word – timeshares -- in the story’s headline.

When First Republic Bank promoted and profiled a couple of the Pacaso founders, one St. Helenan promptly complained to the First Republic manager here in town. That bank’s social media boosting of Pacaso stopped. But that didn’t impact First Republic’s relationships with the founders (and maybe the company). St. Helenans might remember we have quite a few banks in town to choose from.

The same with Realtors. The Napa firm Keller Williams has notably benefitted from selling Pacaso’s shares; its agent Elizabeth Olcott is closely identified with Pacaso. That company’s website celebrates that “In her first three months partnering with Pacaso, Elizabeth generated more than $175,000 in gross commission income.” She told a real estate website, “Pacaso has definitely been a nice add to my business.”

St. Helenans have many choices among Realtor firms.

I’ve found just two St. Helenans who had something positive to say about Pacaso. They both mentioned downtown consumer purchasing by Pacaso people. That’s one more reason why we all should “shop local.” One of the two did agree with me that a Pacaso timeshares would be better suited to a property off in the hills rather than near Main Street. With these two exceptions, everyone else with whom I’ve discussed Pacaso recognizes the timeshares’ disruptive presence in our community.

Potholes, water quality, and timeshares are the meat-and-potatoes of local government. Addressing these issues with a robust effort will put our civil authorities on an excellent diet.