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Andy Wilcox, Register 

Ana Herrera

Law Enforcement
Napa Police reflect on Highway 29's jumper threat and the public inconvenience

For 15 hours Tuesday until its peaceful conclusion, the drama of a despondent man clinging to the Highway 29 overpass at Trancas Street captivated and inconvenienced much of Napa.

Thousands of motorists were detoured on and off the highway and onto alternative streets while teams of Napa Police negotiators talked to the man, crowds of family and friends prayed and shouted encouragement and the occasional driver yelled “jump.”

The standoff ended shortly before 8:30 p.m. when the 28-year-old Napa man, confused and exhausted, silently inched his way off the overpass into the waiting arms of loved ones.

Police Lt. Chase Haag said the standoff had elements of the 1975 movie “Dog Day Afternoon” about a botched New York City bank robbery that turned into a public circus.

While police were managing traffic and the crowds, other officers with special training in negotiations were quietly trying to establish rapport with the man on the bridge.

“It got weird,” said Haag, the incident commander. “There were lots of mental health issues and substance abuse issues. We had to (keep) trying to bring him back to the attention of the negotiators.”

The man clinging to the overpass safety screening talked about some of his family and life issues. He expressed sadness and occasionally a desire to die, Haag said.

Police knew the man, who recently came off state parole, due to contacts for narcotics and similar mental health problems, but nothing as dramatic as those on display Tuesday, Haag said.

The Register is not naming the man because of its policy on covering suicides, or in this case, what appeared to be an attempted suicide.

Over the 15-hour standoff, five to six officers negotiated with the man, with officers switching off in an effort to remain mentally sharp, Haag said. The goal was to “slow it down” so the man wouldn’t do anything precipitous, he said.

Conversations were often brief, with the man losing focus and becoming distracted, he said.

“Time is on our side” in situations like this, said Police Capt. Jennifer Gonzales. “It’s an inconvenience for others when we close the roadway, but the priority is life. We need to give the person time to process what’s going on.”

Negotiators, speaking in English and Spanish, offered the man food and drink. When they brought him a requested meal from McDonald’s as a lure, he lost interest in eating, Haag said.

Officers offered water that could be drunk with a straw through the chainlink fence, and a family member brought him his favorite soda, Haag said.

The length of the standoff — 15 hours — wore down officers, friends and family who came and went and Register staff — but seemingly not the man clinging to the fence.

“We were all amazed” by his stamina, Haag said.

Police had fire and ambulance crews stationed under the overpass in case the man jumped or fell. Some observers wondered why public safety workers didn’t put cushions on the roadway as a precaution.

“Sometimes I think Hollywood has better resources than we have in real life,” said Gonzales.

When the man came off the overpass, he was taken to Queen of the Valley Medical Center for a physical evaluation, then to a facility for psychiatric evaluation.

Napa County Mental Health Director Bill Carter said Wednesday that he could not comment on what happened to the man. But in similar circumstances, a person would typically be brought to the county’s year-old emergency psychiatric center in Napa Valley Commons.

County workers would evaluate the patient and decide if an involuntary hold should be applied. The patient could be referred on to a locked psychiatric facility such as ones operated by St. Helena Hospital in Deer Park and in Vallejo, he said.

Transformation of Justin-Siena softball field into Napa senior housing is about to begin

Within two years, the fields in north Napa where high school athletes played for more than a quarter century are set to become home to more of the city’s older residents.

Construction is about to begin on a 173-room senior living center at the former softball fields in the northeast corner of Justin-Siena High School, a developer said Tuesday. Oppidan Investment Co. of Excelsior, Minnesota announced a groundbreaking ceremony for The Watermark at Napa Valley on May 9 at the property off Solano Avenue, with the building expected to open in the first quarter of 2020.

The 195,000-square-foot senior housing center will occupy a 5.8-acre parcel owned by Justin-Siena, a private Catholic academy that has sought to build out the land throughout the decade to raise funds for tuition support and campus upgrades. The campus totals 40 acres.

School directors won city approval for the project in 2016, after earlier proposals for a Lowe’s hardware emporium aroused blowback from neighbors fearing traffic tie-ups in the area.

During the scheduled 22 months of construction, a barrier will separate the senior home site from Justin-Siena, and no changes to the campus schedule are expected, school officials said in an announcement on the Justin-Siena website. Entry and parking for construction workers will be off Solano Avenue, north of Trower Avenue, rather than through the campus on Maher Street.

What will emerge is a three-story complex with room for 73 seniors in independent living rooms, another 73 in an assisted-living center and 21 dementia patients in a memory-care unit, according to plans Oppidan filed with the city. The Watermark also will feature a fitness center, community center, chapel and café, according to Justin-Siena.

Oppidan earlier announced the home would be operated by Watermark Retirement Communities, an Arizona company that manages 42 senior living centers in the U.S., including four in the Bay Area.

Justin-Siena’s agreement with Oppidan is not a sale but a long-term lease designed to to bolster the school’s tuition assistance fund, which provides more than $2 million annually, school officials said.

School directors described possible outreach programs linking its students to residents of the neighboring senior living center, such as internships, intergenerational learning and senior mentorships.

Having played their last game on campus on Friday, the Justin-Siena softball squad will play the rest of its home schedule at the Napa Valley College field, which has been dormant through two springs without its own team. The Braves’ first game at NVC will be April 12 against Marin Catholic.

Plans for a new on-campus softball diamond remain under development, Brian Cassayre, Justin-Siena’s facilities director, said last week. A proposed site for a replacement softball field would be next to the school’s existing baseball diamond and behind Napa Fire Station No. 3, at the corner of Solano and Trower avenues, according to the school website.

Health Care
Construction of OLE Health's south Napa campus reaches halfway mark

Currently wrapped in a layer of black waterproofing material, the new OLE Health medical building under construction in south Napa has a rather ominous appearance.

“It looks dramatic,” said OLE Health Foundation CEO Tanir Ami. But the dark façade isn’t permanent.

The foundation CEO explained that the black material is just one layer of the building’s exterior, one that will eventually be covered by a more aesthetically pleasing warm brown color.

The $31 million project, located at 300 Hartle Court, is about halfway through construction, said Ami during a phone interview on Monday.

“I feel great about the progress,” Ami said. “It’s super exciting.”

“We’ve been very fortunate so far to be right on schedule with this project,” said Alicia Hardy, CEO of OLE Health. “With each day that passes, we get closer to the exciting reality of providing a beautiful space for families all over Napa County to receive amazing healthcare.”

The new campus is expected to better meet the needs of a clinic that treats more than 33,000 patients yearly, straining the capacity of its space on Pear Tree Lane in north Napa.

At the construction hub near the Century Napa Valley movie theater complex, exterior walls have been built, except for the north side of the building, which will be enclosed by glass from floor to ceiling. That glass will be installed later in the construction timeline, likely closer to August, said Ami.

“It’s going to be gorgeous,” she said of the glass walls.

The large tower in the front of the building, which will include the elevators for the three-story building, will be covered with its exterior surface in August as well, she said.

Much of the work at the site is focused on what goes inside the walls, such as plumbing, ducting and electrical. There can be as many as 60 or more workers on the site on any given day, said Ami.

“We think it will be 10 months until construction is done,” and a grand opening date itself is still a year away, she said. The center broke ground in February 2017.

“It has been exciting to watch the OLE Health building rise so quickly,” said Gasser Foundation spokesperson Joe Fischer.

Gasser donated the land for the facility.

“OLE Health has been such an important part of the healthcare network we have in the Valley,” Fischer said. “I look forward to the opening day.”

Parking for the new OLE Health facility will be located between the new facility and the Napa County Animal Shelter.

The 30,000-square-foot south Napa campus will serve 15,000 patients and create 90 new jobs, said the organization. Patients will also be served at the Pear Tree Lane facility

The building will allow an expansion of primary care services by adding 22 patient exam rooms, a triage unit for immediate care services, nine dental chairs, full optometry services, integrated behavioral health, preventive care services, classrooms for health education, a pharmacy and other services.

Ledcor construction is building the new facility.

Across Napa County, one-fourth of children and a sixth of adults receive some form of care at Ole Health, according to the nonprofit.

In what was described as unrelated to the development project, Ami also confirmed that between six and seven OLE Health employees were laid off at the start of 2018.

“It has nothing to do with the building,” she said. “We had been preparing ourselves for a robust expansion but with the current administration (in Washington, D.C.), it looks like we are going to have to prepare for cuts in the Medicaid program.”

The laid-off staff worked primarily in administration, including the communications department, she said.

OLE Health has an estimated 250 employees.

J.L. Sousa, Register 

A group of people gather and pray for the safety of a man who climbed over the railing of the overpass at Trancas Street and Redwood Road early Tuesday morning, forcing the closure of Highway 29 and traffic to be rerouted throughout the day. 

Napa to use parks money to help pay for Senior Center update

Napa will borrow money meant for park upgrades of the future, in order to meet a growing bill for the senior center it wants to improve now.

Some $1.2 million originally intended for updates to Kennedy Park will be turned instead toward the Napa Senior Activity Center in a maneuver the City Council accepted Tuesday. The funding is meant to plug a hole that has opened up in the financing for the gathering place for older Napans, amid labor shortages in the Bay Area construction trades, driving the price tag north of $2 million.

“We need to give them a respectful, responsive and beautiful facility to our seniors for their final years,” Councilmember Doris Gentry said before the unanimous vote.

Council members in October 2016 approved a two-step refresh of the Senior Center, which opened on Jefferson Street in 1976. The first phase, which will involve modernizing but not enlarging the current building, originally was forecast at $1.4 million, with a second-stage expansion requiring several million dollars more.

Changes in the Senior Center upgrade’s first phase would cover the entrance, kitchen and multi-use rooms of the current building. Afterward, the second stage would add more than 8,000 square feet of floor space, producing a 19,985-square-foot center with room for amenities such as a library, fitness room and meeting areas. Earlier estimates placed the cost of the complete plan at $6 million.

But in the face of a strong regional economy – and the demand for labor to repair damage from the October wildfires in the North Bay – Napa’s estimate for the first phase already had risen to $1.9 million by the time it took five construction bids on the Senior Center in December. Some of the proposals were incomplete, and none of the others came in below $2.4 million, according to John Ferons, city senior civil engineer.

Napa raised its estimate to $2.55 million and then pared more than $400,000 from the makeover, mainly by delaying work on the outside grounds to focus on improving the building, Recreation Manager Katrina Gregory told the council.

In search of funds to get the renovation going, council members agreed to tap into a different pot of money, a fund for acquiring land for city parks. The money steered into the Senior Center originally was set aside for improving Kennedy Park but was not expected to be used until 2020 at the earliest.

Napa is expected to put the project back out for bids in the coming months, minus the outdoor work, which the city may offer to bidders separately or fold into the later expansion.

More than 50 recreational, social and support programs will need to move out of the main Senior Center building during construction. Participants may be directed to other city facilities including the Las Flores Community Center in northwest Napa or Kennedy Park’s Pelusi Building, or into a pair of small houses sharing a lot with the seniors’ building, the Parks and Recreation Department announced last fall.