Stone Bridge School presents a conundrum for Napa County. A school that promotes agriculture wants a home in a rural area where the county discourages development to preserve agriculture.
The Napa Valley Unified School District might relocate Stone Bridge School to 7.6 acres along Old Sonoma Road near Dealy Lane. The present school is about a mile away in the Carneros farming region and sits over an earthquake fault and gas line, prompting the move.
Napa County can only offer advice, given that the school district is a public agency and the county has no veto power over its decisions. The county Planning Commission took up the issue on Wednesday.
The result: the county will send a letter to the district saying a school at 5266 Old Sonoma Road would be inconsistent with the agricultural zoning and other county policies. But the letter doesn’t state county opposition.
“This school and this kind of school is a great concept,” Commissioner Terry Scott said. “I support this concept totally. It speaks to the heart of the Napa Valley, which is agriculture.”
“Schools seem more urban to me,” Scott said.
Stone Bridge School is presently located amid Carneros farmland at 1680 Los Carneros Ave. It is a charter school for grades kindergarten through eighth that includes a small organic farm and vineyard where students do the planting, the weeding and the harvesting.
“We really think it’s important for kids to have their hands in the ground,” school Administrator Maria Martinez said.
On Dec. 12, the NVUSD Board of Education voted to buy the Old Sonoma Road site for $1.8 million. It directed district officials to execute a purchase agreement and open and close escrow. The purchase is contingent upon certain factors, such as complying with state environmental laws, the board’s resolution said.
A few weeks ago, district officials talked about closing escrow around April. District Superintendent Patrick Sweeney said Wednesday the date has been extended until June.
Sweeney made it clear in a letter to the county this isn’t a done deal, saying the district is “evaluating the possible acquisition” of the property.
The school board wants to move the school for safety reasons because of the earthquake fault and the PG&E line, which passes under the school as it runs from Marin County to Solano County. Sweeney said attempts to find a big-enough site within the city of Napa failed.
But Napa County has strict laws to protect farmland and any proposed development in rural areas can prove controversial.
The Napa County Farm Bureau is concerned that a Stone Bridge School along Old Sonoma Road would conflict with nearby farming operations. Farmers would face such issues as trying to avoid the drift of chemical sprays onto school grounds.
“We believe Napa County agricultural lands are not appropriate for school siting,” Cio Perez of the Farm Bureau wrote to the county.
The present Stone Bridge School is also near farmland. But a school called Los Carneros School first came to that site in 1949. Perez said state regulations make it much more difficult to farm near schools these days.
Jennifer Putnam, executive director of Napa Valley Grapegrowers, also addressed the commission. She talked about the 50th anniversary of the agricultural preserve this year. Though the Old Sonoma Road site is outside of the preserve, it has agricultural watershed zoning that promotes farming.
“This is about zoning,” Putnam said. “This is about setting precedent. We discourage this type of growth-inducing development.”
Commissioner Jeri Hansen found it “unfortunate” that a school that promotes agriculture is receiving a chilly reception from agricultural groups. She wondered if an acceptable alternative site can be found or if the groups and district can work out the areas of disagreement.
“This should be kind of a lovefest about this. It’s too bad that it isn’t and we’re grappling with these issues,” she said.
Another wine industry group, Napa Valley Vintners, is neutral on the proposed Old Sonoma Road site.
The county received more than 20 letters from people opposed to the school relocation. Most of them live in The Orchard, a residential development at the Carneros Resort & Spa next to the Old Sonoma Road property.
Resident Barry Murphy foresees traffic problems as parents drive students to school. He is afraid of backups as cars wait to make a left turn across two-lane Old Sonoma Road, where the speed limit is 45 to 50 mph.
“No private developer would be allowed to have a project of this size on that site,” Murphy told commissioners.
He and other neighbors said the school district didn’t reach out to them.
“We know that there are neighbors who aren’t real pleased with us moving to this location,” Sweeney said. “We’re planning to have a meeting with them at the end of February.”
The county’s Planning Commission-approved letter to the district said a school would be inconsistent with the agricultural designation under the county general plan. The area has groundwater problems. A school could generate Old Sonoma Road traffic inconsistent with agricultural uses.
Sweeney said the district will study water supplies, a septic system and traffic.
“We’re in the school business,” Sweeney said. “Safety is our number one priority, so if doesn’t work for traffic, we’ll not go to that site. If it doesn’t (work) for water, we won’t go that site. If our septic system has to be spread out so wide that it’s going to affect the footprint of the school building, we will not use that site.”
County Supervising Planner Charlene Gallina said that the School Board by a two-thirds vote can exempt the Stone Bridge School project from the county’s zoning and general plan requirements.
City of Napa firefighters and paramedics took to the hills – that is, Westwood Hills – last week to practice what to do when encountered with a low-angle rescue. That is, how they would rescue someone who was hiking and fell down a ravine.
They chose to conduct their training in Westwood Hills Park on Browns Valley Road because that’s one of the most frequent places where they need to use such rescue skills, Capt. Ty Becerra said last week.
“Over the years, we’ve had numerous low-angle rescues in Westwood Hills Park,” Becerra said. The most recent, he said, was just a few months ago when firefighters had to use a rope system to get down to a hiker who had fallen into a ravine.
In another incident two years ago, fire personnel used the rope system to rescue a teenage girl who sustained major injuries after rolling 100 feet into one of the park’s gullies. She was carried to a fire department 4-wheel drive utility vehicle, then driven to the top of Westwood Hills Park where she was loaded aboard a California Highway Patrol helicopter and taken to a hospital.
Rescues there can be difficult not only because the area is so large – 106 acres — but also because it’s heavily shaded, meaning that moisture can stay inside the park, causing hills to be slippery, he said.
“Even the area that we were working in (on the perimeter), some of the members in our department were slipping because it was kind of muddy and slick,” Becerra said. “It was more difficult than some of the other trainings we’ve done in the past.”
Overall, though, the training was a success, he said.
Firefighters needed to engineer a rope system that would allow help them to rappel down the hill to the patient, hoist the patient onto a Stokes basket and carry them back up the hill.
Although the firefighters/paramedics train a few times a year on low-angle rescues, this time they had new equipment they needed to get used to and, Becerra said, there are a lot of new people who needed to be trained. On top of that, they all need to know how to work together as a team, he said.
“Whether you’re on a football team or a baseball team, we need to be able to work together,” he said.
The firefighters/paramedics trained in shifts to ensure that everyone was able to participate in the training and to make sure there was coverage in case anything happened elsewhere in the city during those hours.
In a real-life scenario, the first thing that first responders must do is locate the patient, Becerra said, which isn’t always easy to do in Westwood Hills.
When someone falls in the park, they can usually tell dispatchers where they entered the park, but not their exact location, Becerra said. That information is helpful since there are multiple accesses into the park, but, he said, many times first responders spend a lot of time just searching. Sometimes Napa Police and/or a California Highway Patrol helicopter is called in to assist in locating the patient, he said.
The incident commander decides what resources are needed and then a paramedic is sent down to the patient to assess their condition.
“The paramedic gives a general synopsis of what they’re going to need to extract that victim out,” Becerra said. That paramedic will establish communication with the patient and begin treatment. Meanwhile, at the top of the hill, other fire personnel will set up a pulley system using trees as anchors before sending a Stokes basket – and few more people – down the hill. Then the patient is put on the basket and pulled up on the rope system along with the firefighters/paramedics.
Anyone hiking in the park should try to get familiar with its layout and trails so that if anything happens, they can better communicate their location to dispatchers, Becerra said. People shouldn’t go alone when hiking in Westwood Hills, either, he said.
“It’s always good, if you can, to hike with somebody,” Becerra said. Hikers should also be sure to have a charged cellphone with them as well as appropriate clothing and shoes, he said. And, he said, remember that there are wild animals, including mountain lions, in the park.
A new Napa building will become a base for city maintenance work. But first, it will be the police department’s home away from home.
Starting in the spring of 2019, Napa Police will operate from a manufactured 25,000-square-foot building at the city’s Corporation Yard at 770 Jackson St. as work begins on a four-story downtown civic center that will house law enforcement and other city departments.
The new civic center would occupy the block that now contains the Community Service Building on First Street.
The project, which the City Council unanimously approved Tuesday afternoon, marks the first firm plans to provide transitional space for city agencies while their current homes are torn down and a replacement built nearby on First Street.
After the new City Hall’s expected completion in 2021, the structure will serve as workshops, storage and offices for the Public Works department but will also host a dispatch center, which will be built for Napa Police and remain as a backup after the agency moves out.
Public Works Director Jacques LaRochelle estimated the building’s cost at $5.6 million, with move-in taking place around May 2019. By contrast, leasing trailers to host police operations for two years would cost about $4.1 million, and leasing land for those trailers could drive up the price tag to $7 million, he told the council.
LaRochelle predicted Napa will need to finance a corporation yard center separately from the civic center project, for which the developer Plenary Group has been selected.
The Corporation Yard building may be only the first element in a radical rethinking of the 8.9-acre corporation yard, a valuable city-owned parcel close to downtown in a community marked by soaring property values.
Council members discussed eventually separating a 3-acre northern section of the yard along Lincoln Avenue for about 60 units of affordable housing, as well as reclaiming the 1.8-acre next-door site of the VINE bus yard when the Napa Valley Transportation Authority completes a move of the service facility south near Napa County Airport.
Such an overhaul has been favored by Napa officials because of the block’s nearness to businesses, schools, shopping and public buses – a combination that may reduce the strain on local traffic.
Councilmembers agreed that few other pieces of land – particularly those already in city hands – can meet police and public-works needs for space, communications, and secure storage for vehicles and evidence over two years.
“It’s secure, it’s convenient, it’s close in – I think it’s ideal,” said Councilmember Scott Sedgley. “I don’t think we can operate a corp. yard that’s out of the industrial park; you can’t put it too far away. It’s here, it’s city-owned, and we can get there quicker than if we go somewhere else.”
Napa’s various city agencies are seeking temporary quarters during construction of the civic center, which will take place at the same time as demolition of the current City Hall and police station on the block bordered by First, School, Second and Seminary streets.
A combination of hotel, housing and retail development will take up the present-day City Hall block, with tax revenues defraying the cost of construction bonds for Napa’s $110 million city headquarters.
The 2017-18 Napa County grand jury wants to make certain its predecessors received more than lip service from Napa County on issues ranging from elections to food safety.
This citizen watchdog group, which works under the authority of the Napa County Superior Court, asked the county if it followed through on certain recommendations made by previous grand juries in years gone by.
The county Board of Supervisors has approved answers that amounted to saying that the county takes input from grand juries seriously, even if it sometimes disagrees with the advice.
One recommendation came from the 2012-13 grand jury report on the county Election Division. That report noted that, because the Registrar of Voters is an elected position, the county cannot appoint an independent elections board as an elections overseer.
“The grand jury is concerned that the Registrar of Voters is the sole and final arbiter of ballot inspection and verification for his own election,” the report said.
County supervisors back then said these issues required further analysis. Today’s grand jury is asking, ‘Did you ever follow through?’
Yes, the Board of Supervisors said in its latest response. The Board in 2013 discussed the matter and concluded that an elected Registrar of Voters position is more cost-effective and efficient.
The 2014-15 grand jury looked at training for the county’s 200 volunteer firefighters. It found that training class times often were inconvenient for volunteers with full-time jobs and that more qualified trainers were needed.
“All the people interviewed acknowledged that ongoing training was the biggest issue for all volunteers,” the 2014-15 report said.
The grand jury recommended asking for input from all volunteer firefighters on training issues and presenting a plan to resolve the issues. The county responded that it would do so by Dec. 31, 2015.
Task accomplished, the Board of Supervisors said in its latest response, approved in January.
The 2014-15 grand jury issued a report titled “Are Napa County Wineries Following the Rules?” The grand jury concluded the county needed to do more to make certain wineries comply with county-issued use permits limiting wine production and visitation.
One flaw the grand jury found was that county’s annual winery audit looks at about 20 wineries and the county has more than 450 wineries. The grand jury wanted all wineries audited at least once every five years.
The county’s latest response said the Board of Supervisors has since held six workshops on the topic, as well as had other discussions at public meetings. The Board could approve a new winery audit regime in coming months.
If all goes as planned, the county will audit all wineries in the unincorporated county every year to see if they are complying with their county-approved wine production limits.
The 2015-16 grand jury looked at the county’s inspection program for 750 restaurants and food trucks. It praised the county’s efforts to reduce the risk of customers falling ill from contaminated food.
But the grand jury also had a recommendation – expand resources devoted to the training of restaurant owners and employees on food safety practices.
The county’s latest response said the program is operating efficiently and meeting its minimum responsibilities with no increased public health risks. Food safety education efforts can’t be expanded because an increase in restaurants and food events keeps staff focused on routine inspections and follow-ups.
But the county could look again within two years at increasing food inspection staff.
That is only a sampling of the 2017-18 grand jury’s follow-up questions and the county’s responses. The two parties went over certain recommendations contained in 12 reports.
While the 2017-18 grand jury wanted to know if Napa County paid more than lip service to past grand juries, it also wanted county officials to keep their lips sealed publicly when replying. But that didn’t happen.
Supervisors first took up the issue in December during a public session to the consternation of the Grand Jury. Grand Jury foreperson Alan Charles Dell’Ario said the Grand Jury wanted the county to simply send over the answers in private and accused county officials of violating “investigative confidentiality.”
But county officials said answers from the Board of Supervisors had to be approved by the Board of Supervisors during a public meeting. They also said they didn’t know the grand jury’s requests were part of an ongoing investigation.
The fracas seems to be over, at least for now.
“They said they didn’t understand what we wanted,” Dell’Ario said last week. “I have some reservations about that answer, but that’s (their) answer and we’ve moved on at this point.”