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Southern California firefighters bestow gifts of thanks on their Napa hosts

The tables were turned Monday. A firefighter from Southern California who helped fight Napa’s wildfires in October returned to say ‘thank you’ to the Napa community.

Until now, most of the thanks have gone in the other direction, with homemade signs all over the Napa Valley thanking the legions of firefighters who fought for more than a week to stop the devastating wildfires.

On Monday, firefighter/paramedic Scott Morton of the Montebello Fire Department spoke of the remarkable hospitality and generosity he and a crew of 22 men received while staying at the Napa River Inn in the Napa Mill complex in October.

“There were so many acts of kindness,” said Morton.

The crew, known as strike team 1284 Alpha, was fed meals, given coffee and treats, sandwiches, hot showers, laundry service and other accommodations.

The Strike Team was made up of 22 firefighters from five areas in Southern California: Montebello, Downey, Santa Fe Springs, Vernon and Compton.

“You made us feel appreciated and this is what kept us going” during their 13-day stay, he said. “We wanted to give something back after the fires.”

Morton then presented plaques from his group to thank the Napa Mill merchants and staff for their hospitality. Dozens attended the event, including officials from the Napa fire and police departments, Mayor Jill Techel and Supervisor Alfredo Pedroza.

Two larger plaques were presented to the Napa River Inn and Celadon restaurant featured patches from the five agencies and a helmet. The helmet included a fire shield, which is a particular honor, Morton noted.

Two other plaques were presented to Debbie Dever of the Vintage Sweet Shop and Toni Chiappetta of Sweetie Pies.

“The community and local businesses really stood out,” said Morton. “They took really good care of us.”

“They got it backwards,” said Harry Price, the owner of the Napa River Inn. Napans should be thanking them, he said.

The hotel and the Napa Mill “was only doing the right thing,” Price said. “We didn’t put the fire out.”

The firefighters did the hard work. “They went out there and risked their lives,” he said.

“They were the most wonderful group,” Dever said of the strike team.

Napa resident DJ Smith said he wanted to come to the presentation to show his support for the help from the strike team. “I’m just pleased all these guys showed up” to help fight the fires, he said.

“We all owe them a tremendous debt of gratitude,” said Westin Verasa General Manager Don Shindle.

“We are here to celebrate human kindness,” said Morton. “You are a strong community,” he said. “I was honored to be here to help.”

The need for such help continues.

During a phone interview on Tuesday morning, Morton noted that he was driving back to Southern California after his Napa visit. Two new wildfires, also spread by high winds, had already burned more than 50,000 acres combined in the southern part of the state.

“Here we go again,” he said.

Trade Brewing's downtown taproom expands Napa's beer scene

Napa’s beer scene has grown again, this time by 14 taps, seven beers (to date), two co-founders and one new taproom, the blue-collar-tinged Trade Brewing.

Opened in November at 731 First St., two blocks east of downtown, the Trade taproom now serves not only as a gateway to the lively Oxbow District, but as the latest play in an ongoing bid among local brewers to impart craft beer credibility on a region far more synonymous with wine.

Both the site and timing of the new taproom illustrate progress to that end. Set mere steps from Fieldwork Brewing, which opened last year, and the historic Borreo Building, site of Stone Brewing’s forthcoming Napa outpost that is now said to be opening in early 2018, Trade makes the fourth taproom to open in Napa since 2015, preceded by Palisades, Fieldwork and Tannery Bend Beerworks. The latter opened earlier this year just south of downtown on Coombs Street.

Indeed, while working to open up shop, Trade co-founders Derek McClintick and J.B. Leamer held meetings at Fieldwork and have since welcomed their brewing neighbors to the new site.

“It’s one of those things where the more there are, I think it’s better for everyone,” McClintick reflected in the Trade taproom. He and Leamer are joined in the venture by business partners Julian Webster, Jeremy Sill and Tim and Mary Beth Herman.

The space of Trade is simple, an unhurried, deliberate ode to manual labor and part-reference to Napa founder Nathaniel Coombs, a carpenter. Mallets, hatchets and hammers were among the few wall ornaments hanging above an L-shaped bar where a lone couple chatted up the bartender on the Monday afternoon after Thanksgiving, an echo of ‘90s rock in the air.

A purveyor-sourced menu of bar snacks, salads and paninis is equally uncomplicated. Most importantly, so is the beer.

The frank philosophy of Trade, Leamer offered: “Why overthink it?”

Chalkboard slates mounted on a wooden backdrop offer a blonde ale named Bricklayer, a saison called Loose Fuse, a Belgian pale ale dubbed Swing Shift, the Ten Penny brown ale, and of course, IPAs Mallet and Hatchet. The latest addition is the Pile Driver Double IPA, bringing the choices to seven as of late November.

With enough room to grow to 14 beers, the team’s end game is to have six or seven staples complemented by seasonal and experimental brews. The beer is brewed not on site, but in a shared facility in Vallejo using a 15-barrel system and a “pretty standard” brewing process, said McClintick, the founding duo’s “beer nerd” with more than 15 years of home brewing behind him.

Though McClintick lauds the experimentation he sees across the industry today, when it comes to the beers of Trade, an everyman’s appeal takes priority.

“I kind of looked back on when I started drinking beer and why I started drinking beer and what draws me to craft beer,” he said. “And a lot of it is just classic beer, like classic styles of beer. Beers that are brewed, I don’t want to say ‘by the book,’ but beers that are very approachable by anyone.”

Simply put, “We want a beer that everybody wants to drink.”

Of course, he adds, that’s not to say the team won’t be experimenting down the road. “We absolutely will. But I think our goal was to just make really good beer. It didn’t have to be necessarily some beer that you’ve never had before, right?”

So far, simple seems to have had the appeal its founders are after. Debuting at the Napa Valley BBQ and Beer Battle in September, the brewery put its Bricklayer blonde ale and Hatchet IPA up against Bay Area beer heavies Lagunitas and Bear Republic, as well as Fort Point, Heretic, Napa Palisades, Tannery Bend and Napa Smith. Today, the trophy for crowd favorite sits above the taproom bar.

“Our beer was amazing,” Leamer held. “And we’re hometown people, so I mean, why not us?”

Meeting in 2013, the pair first partnered to open JAX Diner, also on First Street several blocks from Trade. With a shared focus on downtown and McClintick introducing Leamer ever more to the world of craft beer, the idea for a brewery surfaced, both said, at a time when Napa’s taprooms were few and far between.

“We knew there was a big following for craft beer in Napa,” McClintick said. “People were being underserved.”

Prior to the Trade taproom, a larger vision was put forward in 2016 when the development group that owns the property put in a pre-application with the city for ‘Foxbow,’ a 134,000-square-foot concept that would see the property host two four-story buildings straddling the Wine Train tracks, sporting a hotel, condominium units and retail space, topped off with a pedestrian sky bridge, pool and roof deck.

Leamer, who was the applicant on the proposal, said the group still plans to develop the collection of parcels.

In the meantime, curious beer seekers will have one more stop to make downtown, while the shared vision of Napa as an eventual craft beer destination gains one more toehold in reality.

LAFCO opens door to piping Napa water to Carneros resort

A potential path is emerging for the rural Carneros Resort & Spa to pipe in city of Napa water, with local leaders possibly making decisions in 2018.

Napa County in the early 2000s envisioned the resort as relying solely on groundwater, as is typical with development in unincorporated areas. But wells haven’t provided enough water, and the resort buys and trucks in a portion of its water from the city of Napa.

Carneros Resort & Spa – formerly the Carneros Inn—wants to replace the trucks with a pipe. Discussions have focused on the benefit of removing the water trucks from the road versus the possibility of piped city water triggering urban-style growth in a rural area.

On Monday, the Napa County Local Agency Formation Commission (LAFCO) took a vote that essentially said “maybe” to the water piping request.

“We are opening a door without saying ‘yes,’” LAFCO Executive Officer Brendon Freeman said.

City Deputy Public Works Director Phil Brun said after the LAFCO meeting that Napa and Carneros Resort & Spa officials have discussed the possibility of the city providing piped water. A request could go to the City Council in early 2018, with a four-fifths vote needed to return the issue to LAFCO for a final decision.

Carneros Resort & Spa is located on 27 acres at 4048 Sonoma Highway amid agricultural land. The property includes such features as 86 units ranging from cottages to suites, 24 homes and the Boon Fly Café.

A county-approved use permit limits the resort to extracting 28 acre feet of groundwater annually, a LAFCO report said. Yet the resort uses about 42 acre feet of water annually, requiring it to truck in city water taken from city fire hydrants. It does so through its Carneros Inn Mutual Water Company.

Carneros Resort & Spa officials have said the problem with groundwater is both quantity and quality. The present owners have said they are working to solve a problem that they inherited from previous ownership.

Replacing the trucks with piped water isn’t as simple as extending an existing water pipe for a half-mile down Old Sonoma Road. Various state and local rules designed to protect unincorporated areas from possible growth-inducing effects of urban services must be navigated.

One option is to pipe in city water to the resort through the Congress Valley Water District, which already brings city water to nearby rural homes. The district was formed in 1949, before today’s state laws that complicate extending urban services to rural areas existed.

LAFCO declined on Monday to include Carneros Resort & Spa within the sphere of influence for Congress Valley Water District. Commission policies do not support the extension, the LAFCO report said. Nor can the district provide water for commercial uses.

However, the LAFCO’s updated Congress Valley Water District services report also cited the need for public water at the resort.

That finding of deficiency opened the door to another option – piping city water to the resort under the provisions of 2015 state legislation sponsored by then-Assemblyman Bill Dodd, D-Napa. Dodd is presently a state senator.

The Dodd legislation allows the Napa and San Bernardino county LAFCOs to extend urban services to rural areas without pending urban annexations or public health threats. LAFCO must find the service will not hurt agricultural land or be growth inducing. The law applies only to a use existing or planned before July 1, 2015.

Dodd successfully sponsored the pilot program legislation with the support of the Napa County. Napa County argued the law helps prevent urban sprawl by allowing urban service extensions under non-emergency conditions without requiring annexations to cities.