Holly Madrigal made a decision in 2000 that would change her life.
She headed home to Willits after college instead of moving to Silicon Valley, where many of her fellow economics majors at the University of California Santa Cruz were snapping up high-paying jobs in the trillion-dollar dot.com industry.
Out near Northspur, in Mendocino County, a mile from the Skunk Train station, Holly and Gabe Madrigal, her high school sweetheart, lived off the grid, building a straw bale cabin in the woods for some close family friends. Neither had any construction experience.
“It was a grand adventure,” Madrigal says. “Building a house can end a relationship. But it cemented ours.”
Three years later, cabin complete, Holly and Gabe moved to town, tied the knot and bought their house on Pearl Street, where she and Gabe still live with their dog Butter. Gabe launched his career as a natural builder while Holly took a job at Sparetime Supply.
In 2004, at age 26, Holly ran for Willits City Council, and won.
“Running for city council was the first political thing I’d ever considered,” Holly says. “I’d never been class president or a cheerleader or on a sports team. I’d been a dancer and was kind of artsy. But I decided if I was going to be here, I wanted to dig in. I wanted to participate in the shaping of our community. If you want something to happen, you have to take part in making it happen.”
Since embarking on public service, Madrigal’s been part of successful efforts to:
• Bring solar panels to the Willits water plant;
• Create the Local First group with the Chamber of Commerce;
• Build the first skate park in Mendocino County;
• Fund the new Kids’ Club;
• Lure the Kinetic Carnival to Willits, and
• Pass a resolution in support of gay marriage.
Eager to keep in touch with constituents, she holds regular “office hours” at the Willits Farmers’ Market.
After ten years on the Willits City Council and three terms as mayor, Madrigal believes she’s created the countywide connections she needs to get things done as 3rd District Mendocino County Supervisor. Among her goals are supporting the local food movement, in part by bringing a slaughterhouse to the county, and preparing the county for the legalization of marijuana— something’s she’s long supported.
While welcoming the economic and business opportunities legalization of cannabis could bring, Madrigal deplores the negative environmental impacts that the “gold rush” pot boom has had on Mendocino County. “It’s gotten so big and so out of hand, taking off hillsides and leaving toxic chemicals and draining water.”
Mike Griggs, owner of Sparetime Supply has known Holly since she was four years old.
“The things I think make her the best candidate are that she’s a young woman who has experience, energy and many accomplishments,” Griggs says.
Madrigal opposed construction of the $200-million-plus Willits by-pass project, believing it too costly and too destructive of Little Lake wetlands to justify its construction. She favored smaller solutions to local traffic problems, such as extending Railroad Avenue through the entire east side of Willits. She still hopes that Caltrans will downsize its plan for the Northern Interchange but says she’s 100 percent committed to helping Willits and Laytonville thrive when the Bypass is complete.
When Holly was four, April Tweddell, Holly’s mother, moved her family to Willits, supporting her three daughters as a real estate agent. Holly’s father, an artist, stayed in Carmel Valley.
Holly has fond memories of her Brookside schoolteacher Kris Pierce, who taught in Willits for more than three decades before retiring two years ago. Pierce has come to know and respect Madrigal as a dynamic leader and energetic adult.
“I’m voting for her not because I was her teacher, but because she gets things done,” Pierce said. “She’s put in her time in Willits, being on the city council. I really feel like a person needs to start with city government and then move up to county government. She’s done that.”
That Madrigal loves her community and thrives on small town life is obvious to anyone who sees the grin on her face as she waves to parade goers on the Fourth of July, greets old friends at the Blackberry Festival in Covelo or dances at the Kinetic Carnival Ball dressed as a suffragist.
When asked if she’ll be able to serve Covelo and Laytonville with the same commitment she’s shown for Willits, Madrigal responds without hesitation. “Once I’m sworn in, I’ll work for the entire district. Covelo, Laytonville, Willits and all the rural areas in between need economic opportunities, strong infrastructure, safe streets and clean water. My job is to support their dreams.”
Madrigal has won endorsements from some well-known representatives, including U.S. Congressman Jared Huffman and State Senator Maureen Evans, who know of her efficient work while mayor of Willits. However, the endorsements she’s earned from many local residents give her the greatest satisfaction.
Alison Pernell, describing herself as “an involved community member” in Laytonville, says the qualities she most respects in Holly are her initiative, vision and accessibility.
“If she gets elected, she’s committed to holding regular office hours in Laytonville,” Pernell says. “I think that’s super important.”
Karen Oslund, former mayor of Willits, cites Madrigal’s involvement in community projects such as the Willits Kids Club and the new hospital as evidence of Holly’s passion for making Mendocino County a better place.
“She has the health and well-being of our community at heart,” Oslund says.
The Holly Madrigal for Supervisor Headquarters Kick-Off party is Friday, Sept. 5, 4 to 7 p.m. at Holly’s headquarters, 716 S. Main St., Willits, next to Jack-In-The-Box.
(Jane Futcher is a volunteer for Holly Madrigal’s campaign.)