I read with interest the Star’s recent recap of the City Council’s goal-setting meeting, which put me in mind of Robert Benchley’s quote: “If you are not the lead dog, the view never changes.”

I’m not quite sure who inside or outside the council is leading this pack, or if members have simply become greyhounds circling a racetrack to nowhere. This annual exercise provided an opportunity to break from the pack, innovate and inspire. Instead, participants put Post-it notes on the wall and, after hours of discussion, concluded that the council’s highest-ranking goal is the development of new revenue sources. No kidding.

As Councilmember Peter White put it: “Somehow over the short and long term we need to make this city recession-proof.” I would emphasize the word “somehow” as in “who knows how?” Because for too many councilmembers, economic development still means a willingness to spend the revenue derived from new businesses and increased tourism, so long as no new businesses or tourists are actually required.

Mayor Del Britton and Councilmember Ann Nevero took another opportunity to reiterate their wish that the city look exactly the same in 10 years (with better sidewalks). They remind me of the cartoon characters Mr. Peabody and Sherman, who used a WABAC (pronounced “way-back”) machine to travel backward in time to key dates throughout history, except that this pair has permanently set their WABAC to revisit a date 10 years from yesterday.

In the absence of fresh ideas, the council is considering its favorite Plan B: employment of an expert. But why add an expensive new employee whose conclusions they’ll undoubtedly ignore, when they can ignore me for free?

Through relentless online research, I have identified resilient industries fitting nicely within our current wine, culinary and wellness focus that are sure to shower St. Helena with recession-proof riches:

• Pet Pampering. Let’s face it, wineries don’t like children, but who doesn’t welcome an adorable dog? Local businesses would boost receipts by simply adding the words “for Pets” to their names, like “Health Spa Napa Valley … for Pets.” Animal-lovers spend $50 billion annually; why not on tubby-cat wellness retreats and stressed-out-gerbil recovery centers? And wouldn’t grapeseed-infused dog water be high in vitamin E and antioxidants?

• Lipstick. Lavish spending on lipstick and polish is reputedly a positive economic indicator. So bring on the Fumé-flavored lip-gloss, organic Cabernet lip-stain and Viognier toe-varnish. With all the visiting pets, we’ll have plenty of animals to test them on.

• Romance Novels. Steamy bodice-rippers are the one hot spot in a cooling book market, and what better backdrop for stories of greed, jealousy and lust than the wine industry? Plus, if we want to write about wild women, wily billionaires, scheming divorcées and vengeful disinherited offspring, we can simply follow our neighbors around town.

• Doughnuts. Junk food and doughnut chains have enjoyed an upturn as the economy has down-spiraled. Since the mayor was outvoted in opposing the proposed office complex at the southern entrance to town, why not sweeten the deal by adding Doumani’s Donuts, featuring a giant landmark drive-through doughnut, on Highway 29? It could greet lard-and-sugar-fixated visitors passing through its portal with the slogan: “Welcome to California — We’re Always in the Hole!”

• Tattoos. Forty percent of Gen. X-ers have tattoos; 15 percent of the entire U.S. population has one. At $50 to $200 per tat average, couldn’t we invent some purple grape permanent ink? La Condesa might add tattoos to its bar; tequila makes a tasty anesthetic.

• Vegetable Seeds. Finally, a role for the Master Gardeners besides reminding me to mulch! Seed sales are up 75 percent, with 45 million Americans growing food for their dinner tables. And that doesn’t count those enterprising marijuana growers who cultivate the ultimate recession-proof crop.

• Chocolate. Worldwide annual chocolate sales exceed $80 billion, with candy and chewing gum sales soaring. While we concoct some vintage brut bubblegum, let’s persuade Woodhouse Chocolates to go public and pay sea-salt caramel dividends.

• Condoms. As the economy remains flaccid, condom sales are on the rise. What enterprising local scientist is ready to win the Nobel for inventing a grape-skin prophylactic?

Sure, my economic conclusions could be vetted via a fancy study (which would be swiftly shelved between the Housing Committee’s findings and the General Plan). Any expert would likely agree, however, that instead of fearing change, we should pilot our WABAC machine into the future. After all, 10 years from now, things might look even better than today. Can you imagine that?

If not, then you can’t possibly lead the pack in developing an economy, recession-proof or otherwise. So you’d better start following those who can, and here’s hoping you enjoy the view!

(Laura Rafaty is the owner of PennalunaNapaValley.com, a resident of St. Helena, an attorney and former theatrical producer, and an author and columnist. Read more at