March 20, 2011 | Napa Valley Register | Original Article

Time is right for Latino city council representation

Look around Napa and you can’t help but notice the impact of the Latino community. 

In our arts, in our business community, in our schools, the Hispanic influence is everywhere in the city of Napa.

Everywhere, that is, except at City Hall.

Our government doesn’t reflect the makeup of our community. Napa County’s Latino population increased by 50 percent in the 2010 U.S. Census. Latinos now account for 38 percent of the population in the city of Napa.

Napa’s City Council has never included a council person of Latino descent. It’s scarcely even seen a Latino candidate run for one of its seats. 

That needs to change. 

Two-term Napa City Councilman Mark van Gorder said he will not run again for City Council in 2012, leaving an open seat and a big opportunity for new faces to enter the political picture.

Many in and out of the Hispanic community think one of those new faces will be Alfredo Pedroza.

The 20-something Napa-born bank executive already has the civic resume of a politician. Pedroza has a business degree from Sonoma State University and currently works for Redwood Credit Union in Napa. He bought his first home in Napa at the age of 24. He is active within the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Community Action Napa Valley, the Sunrise Rotary Club, the Napa Valley Education Foundation and countless other community groups. 

“He is a smart individual,” Councilman Peter Mott said. “I think very highly of him. Here’s a guy that’s already well-established as a leader not just in the Hispanic community but in all of Napa. 

“He’s made some great choices, and I’ve had a number of conversations with him about his interest in running for office.”

Pedroza, certainly, is not alone among viable Latino candidates, but having a great candidate is not always enough.

“You have to get the Latino community registered to vote,” said Escondido City Councilwoman Olga Diaz, who became that California city’s first Hispanic council representative in 2008. “And you can’t assume all the Latinos will vote for you. We disagree about things like any other part of the community does.

“You are representing the city, not the Latino community, and ultimately people will vote for who they think is the best candidate.”

There was a clear catalyst for Diaz’s first campaign in 2006, after Escondido attempted to pass legislation making it illegal for property owners to rent to illegal immigrants. 

“That made me mad enough to run,” she said. “I didn’t win in 2006, but it gave me the name recognition the next time around.” 

First-time candidates of all cultural backgrounds face an uphill battle, but in 2012 van Gorder’s open seat may lower that hurdle.

“That’s how I got in,” Mott said, “That’s how Julianna (Inman) won. We took open seats.

“The question is how do we wake up the Hispanic community to the need for representation? It’s a must to have a government that’s representative of the community, and obviously we are not that right now.”

Van Gorder said that in 16 years of public service, he’s only seen a handful of Latino applications for city boards and commissions.

“I throw the challenge to the Latino community to apply for these positions,” he said. “Fortunately, I think you have the younger generation — people like Alfredo — that seems ready to step up.”