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Gerald and Jean Hasser 

The Mount Lemmon Vista Point overlooks Tucson.

Napa Valley Wine Train borrowing rail cars while it spiffs up its rolling stock

Both locals and visitors will notice a change to the Napa Valley Wine Train in the coming months: unusual train cars.

Instead of the familiar burgundy and gold cars running up and down Napa Valley, a set of borrowed cars will host riders on daily trips through wine country.

Meanwhile, starting in April, the wine and tour business will begin renovating the exterior and interiors of Wine Train rail cars including the two-story Vista Dome.

To replace the cars under repair, Wine Train owners Noble House Hotels & Resorts, Ltd. and Brooks Street have leased five railcars, a locomotive and a power car from the Sierra Railroad Company.

The Sierra Railroad Company owns and operates tourism railways throughout Northern California, including the Sierra Dinner Train, Sacramento River Train and Skunk Train. The cars coming to Napa belonged to the Sierra Dinner Train based in Oakdale, which suspended operation in October.

“We want to keep our celebrated Napa Valley Wine Train in premium condition to provide our customers with the best experience,” said Napa Valley Wine Train’s Co-CEO Scott Goldie.

“We’re thankful to Sierra Railroad Company for providing us with an opportunity to expand our current offerings and keep the Napa Valley Wine Train running at full speed.”

“We look forward to updating our beloved Vista Dome and the main train railcars.”

“We are excited to be working with the Napa Valley Wine Train as they have the best dinner train operation in the country,” said Sierra Railroad Company CEO Mike Hart.

“It’s a win-win” for both companies, said Anthony Giaccio, director of railroad operations of the Napa Valley Wine Train.

The Vista Dome renovations should begin in this fall and could last as long as a year, said Giaccio.

The project could cost as much as $1 million, he said.

The Vista Dome, a 1952 Pullman two-story domed railcar, is one of 10 full-length domed railcars built by the Pullman Company.

One of only nine believed to still exist, the Dome offers panoramic views of the Napa Valley through the curved glass windows that run the length of the railcar.

The Vista Dome Car provides guests an “elevated observation style dining experience” with a multi-course gourmet menu prepared in the kitchen located on the lower level of the railcar, the Wine Train said a news release.

While the Vista Dome receives an update, the Napa Valley Wine Train will use a high-end dining and lounge car from Sierra Railroad Company.

The five rail cars leased from Sierra Railroad Company include one dining car, one car with removable tables and flexible space to be used for weddings and corporate meetings and two observation open-air cars, which can be used for a variety of experiences including weddings, large parties, tasting salons and holiday celebrations.

The current plan is for the Vista Dome to retain its cabernet red, champagne gold and grape leaf green color scheme. Other cars may not need new exterior paint, Giaccio said.

The Sierra trains are currently en-route to the Wine Train property, said Giaccio.

Renovations could be completed by 2019. The partnership between Sierra Railroad Company and the Napa Valley Wine Train has the potential to continue beyond the renovation period, said a news release.

For the past year, the Napa Valley Wine Train has established multiple new partnerships, events and offerings including Quattro Vino tours, private Twilight Tours, a partnership with Blue Note Napa for pop-up dinner and music experiences, Santa Trains for the holidays and collaborations with musical talents for Rock the Rails, a monthly musical concert series.

The business also announced plans to completely redevelop its McKinstry Street property in Napa estimated to cost $100 million. The existing Wine Train station building and surface parking lot would be removed to make room for a six-level, 60-foot-high structure containing a 148-room hotel, restaurant, shops, a pool, spa and a new terminal, with 396 parking spaces on the bottom three levels and rooftop gardens bracketing the north and south ends.

Noble House Hotels & Resorts, Ltd., a collection of luxury hotels and resorts, and Brooks Street, a California-based real estate development and investment company, bought the Wine Train in 2015. The train was sold by the family of its founder, the late Vince DeDomenico. A price was not reported.

After a season of NFL protests, Napa fans come downtown for Super Bowl

Super Bowl LII was the culmination of yet another NFL season. For some spectators who persevered through an autumn of player protests and fan blowback, this year’s championship was something more – a relief.

On Sunday, those who packed the bars of downtown Napa restaurants could enjoy a nearly four-hour gridiron clash as the New England Patriots aimed for their fifth Super Bowl victory, and the Philadelphia Eagles sought their first. It would be a tidy and clear conclusion to the 2017 season between the sidelines – tidier, indeed, than that discord between supporters and opponents of the players who have kneeled during pregame playings of the national anthem to protest racism and inequality, and who had been attacked by President Trump as unpatriotic.

At Downtown Joe’s, waiters and bartenders arrayed the Main Street brewpub, and themselves, for the occasion as they have for Super Bowls past. Numerous televisions showed the action above the bar, and bartenders poured drafts while sporting NFL jerseys – including the number 7 of former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who began kneeling for “The Star-Spangled Banner” in 2016 and has gone unsigned this season.

“We’re telling people to come an hour early for a seat at the bar, because it’s first-come, first-served,” said Natalie Tobler, daughter of Downtown Joe’s owner Joe Peatman.

Statistics show that television ratings for NFL games have gone down in back-to-back seasons, triggering debate as to whether fans boycotting protests have played a role.

At the brewpub, however, Tobler saw little effect, perhaps because of the variety of fan interests passing through a tourist haven.

“We’ve been consistent; as the (largest) sports bar in Napa we get out people who want to see their team play their game,” she said an hour before the 3:30 p.m. kickoff.

Among the pregame diners were a mother, son and daughter who were watching the game more than 1,900 miles from U.S. Bank Stadium in Minneapolis – the home field of the Minnesota Vikings, their home-state team, who would have played the Super Bowl on familiar ground but for their loss to the Eagles two weeks earlier.

“I found it hard to believe that people felt so strongly about it,” mused Brenda Olinger of St. Cloud, Minnesota, who had traveled west with her daughter Britta to spend the weekend in Napa with her son Warren, a Merced resident. “If people want to watch the games, they have every right to do so. It is, after all, a game.”

For her son, the contest was a way to exhale after a tumultuous few weeks as a Vikings fan.

“I was in a funk for about a week; it took a weekend of not thinking about football to get past it,” said Warren Olinger. “But it’s not like you’re going to miss the Super Bowl,” he added – though he volunteered a Vikings victory would have sent him on the first flight east, to score a Super Bowl ticket or at least watch the game with friends.

At the other end of the bar, another spectator could see both sides of the anthem debate, but pointed to the inability of Kaepernick, the originator of the protest, to sign with another team since the 49ers released him a year ago.

“There’s two sides to it,” said Pedro Perez of Napa, who with his brother Javi took up a spot near one end of the bar to cheer for the Patriots. “A lot of people found it offensive, and other people saw it as standing up for their rights. But when the NFL is backed up against it, they’ll push people like Kaepernick out of the way.’

Perez dismissed the seriousness of many people claiming to swear off pro football over athletes’ political gestures, especially for a game that draws more than 100 million TV viewers nationwide.

“I’ve heard people say that, but they’ll always turn on the TV and open a cold one,” he said with a chuckle. People who said they wouldn’t watch the NFL are still watching the NFL.”

Other football fans claimed seats on First Street at the Norman Rose Tavern as game time approached.

“Eagles all the way! We hate the Patriots,” declared Adam Braunstein. He sported a Pittsburgh Steelers jersey – his favored team despite being a Napa native – as he sipped pints with his wife Stacy, who also donned the Pittsburgh black-and-gold.

The Braunsteins left no doubt where they stood on athletes laying out their views for fans to see. “I support him wholeheartedly,” Stacy declared of Kaepernick, who took the 49ers to the 2013 Super Bowl.

And what of Trump’s call to fire kneeling players? “I think Trump’s an idiot – and please do quote me on that one,” Adam retorted.

Elsewhere, the billiards tables were mostly empty at Billco’s, where guests instead bellied up to the long bar at one side. One, a veteran of 12 years in the Marine Corps, could see the point of view of those speaking out for racial justice – but still could not support their chosen arena in which to do so.

“Being a former military guy, I didn’t think it was the proper venue to do it,” said Charlez Carter of Napa. “I understand that there’s still problems in our country, but I think (the protests) should be done differently.”

A few chairs away were Brian and Angella Linehan, who had first met at Billco’s 13 years ago and later married. Faded and chipped, but still intact, was the No. 28 jersey of former running back Marshall Faulk of the then-St. Louis Rams – the first team defeated in a Super Bowl by Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, in 2002.

The kneeling of players and the resulting controversy had upset Angella in the early weeks, “but I then I thought about it, and I thought, everyone has the right of free speech, and the kneeling was respectful; it wasn’t disrespectful,” she recalled.

The couple’s support for protesters had not created much friction in their social circle, added Brian, “but I’ve got some family members who disagree.”

“And that’s their right!” replied Angella, laughing.

Transgender teen awarded 'Youth of the Year' for Upvalley Boys & Girls Club

ST. HELENA — Amid laughter and applause for the award winners at the annual Boys & Girls Club Youth of the Year dinner, hearts swelled and eyes moistened as the honorees shared stories of triumph over struggle.

“They were so brave,” said Trent Yaconelli, executive director of the Boys & Girls Clubs of St. Helena and Calistoga, of the four club members who gave speeches at the 29th Annual Youth of the Year event on Jan. 25 in front of more than 150 attendees at Brasswood in St. Helena.

One club member in particular, Lucas Marquez, 15, who was chosen the overall winner, wove courage, maturity and laughter into his speech, sharing his feelings of how the Boys & Girls Club was a support system when he came out as a transgender teen, closing his speech with an aptly worded quote by the late comedian Robin Williams: “Everyone is fighting a battle we know nothing about.”

“When I heard of the word ‘transgender’ I realized that was me. I could relate. My body parts did not match how I was feeling about myself. I was uncomfortable in my own body,” he said.

“When I was 12 years old, I found out about the Teen Center,” Marquez said. Clint Ferrier, Calistoga Teen Center unit director, was the first person he met. They formed a bond and enjoy teasing one another on a regular basis. One day, a friend of Marquez told Ferrier that “Lucia goes by Lucas now,” Marquez said.

“Coming out wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be because of my Teen Center family. I’m really thankful for having them in my life. No one gets judged at the Teen Center. I don’t get judged for who I am and what I like. It’s a place where I can just relax and escape. It’s my second home,” he said.

Marquez found he could talk to Ferrier and others there and it “made such a difference.”

“I found people at the Boys & Girls Club who really cared about me and were willing to listen. As a result, I became very talkative and shared things about my life, like my mom came from Argentina and my dad came from Uruguay, but I wanted to share more,” he said.

“There were times that they would look and see a little child skipping toward them. On the outside, the look of an innocent little girl, but on the inside was a wave of random frightening thoughts that I didn’t know how to deal with, but was afraid to share because I felt if I did I would be setting a bad example to the other kids.”

“At first, I had so many kids to play with I ignored my discomfort, but it got worse as the years went by. When I hit puberty is when my feelings became very intense and I didn’t know what to do. No matter what I did it was wrong. Like dressing in the locker room was especially traumatic. Imagine being equally uncomfortable being in the boys’ bathroom … I simply didn’t understand where I fit,” he said.

His family has been a major source of support too. He said his mom, Cristina Gonzalez, is the person he tells “everything” to, and one of the adults he likes to make laugh. He said he realized earlier this year what he wanted to do with the rest of his life.

“I want to help people and make them laugh,” recalling that his first memory is of laughter.

Marquez will move on to a regional Boys & Girls Clubs of America Youth of the Year competition. Each unit of the Boys & Girls Club of St. Helena and Calistoga chose a Member of the Year to represent their individual units. Marquez is a member of the Calistoga Teen Center.

The other winners are David Blancas, 10, of the Calistoga Unit; Emily Hernandez, 14, of the St. Helena Unit, and Osvaldo Hernandez, 12, of the Howell Mountain Unit.

Each was recommended and selected for excelling in the organization’s core program areas such as character and leadership. Every month, a “Member of the Month” is selected, and of those members one is chosen as Member of the Year and is eligible for the Youth of the Year honor.

David was called “the genuine sunshine kid,” by Lainey Cronk, Calistoga Unit Director. “He is instrumental in making an environment of inclusive, hopeful, confident, good-natured excellence,” she said.

His fifth-grade teacher, Lisa Shepard, said in her letter of recommendation that he “exhibits kindness and compassion” outside the classroom.

The Boys & Girls Club is “a second home” to Emily Hernandez, who has been a club member since she was 5 years old.

Seen by her peers as a leader, Emily is the type of person “we need more of in this world,” said St. Helena Unit Director Ash Clements.

“I see a young woman who is generous with her heart. I see someone who is not afraid to be vulnerable. I see someone who is there to help kids who are struggling. I see someone who steps up to lead when leadership is needed most,” Clements said.

And Emily’s brother, Osvaldo Hernandez, another Member of the Year, said Emily gives him strength and support at home. He is an “above average student” and a “tireless worker,” said Rob Grace, sixth-grade teacher at Robert Louis Stevenson Middle School. And Osvaldo’s “character is clearly defined by his huge heart,” Grace wrote in his recommendation letter.

“When it comes to working closely with others, Osvaldo’s heart beats the loudest,” Grace said.

Osvaldo is a member of the new Howell Mountain Unit, which started in the fall of 2017.

Marquez received a check for $400, and each of the other club members received a $150 check.

Anne Ernst / Anne Ward Ernst 

Boys & Girls Clubs of St. Helena and Calistoga Members of the Year, from left: Emily Hernandez (St. Helena Unit), Lucas Marquez (Calistoga Teen Center, and 2018 Youth of the Year for the joint clubs), David Blancas (Calistoga Unit), and Osvaldo Hernandez (Howell Mountain Unit).

New city corporation yard building to serve as temporary Napa Police headquarters

Napa’s ambitious plan for a new downtown civic center may push the city police department to its corporation yard, at least for a few years.

A proposal the City Council will review Tuesday to modernize Napa’s shop facilities at 770 Jackson St. includes adding a 25,000-square-foot manufactured building to the premises for workshops, office space and storage. In addition, the structure is expected to serve as the temporary base for Napa Police while the city builds out a combination City Hall and police station on First Street, a task expected to last from 2019 to 2021.

The corp yard building would mark one of the first concrete steps taken by Napa toward finding transitional space for city offices during construction of its civic center, a four-story, 130,000-square-foot building that will replace the Community Services Building at First and Seminary streets.

In addition to housing Napa’s meeting chamber and law enforcement offices, the building will unify city departments that are currently spread across seven sites, including three leased spaces that cost the city about $300,000 a year.

Napa also will tear down the existing City Hall and police station on Second Street, and rezone the block for a mix of housing, hotels and shops whose tax revenues will help cover construction bonds on the civic center.

At the corporation yard, Napa would remove an existing storage building on the southwest corner of the property to make room for the new structure, Public Works Director Jacques LaRochelle wrote in a memorandum to the council.

The structure would be built in two phases, with the first phase scheduled to allow Napa Police and dispatchers to occupy it by the spring of 2019. Fenced, secured parking would be provided for patrol vehicles, and a temporary radio tower would be set up for dispatch and communications.

The second phase would begin after Napa Police moves to the downtown civic center, and would remodel the space for long-term shop use. In addition, a section of the corporation yard along Lincoln Avenue also could be rezoned for an affordable housing development, LaRochelle wrote.

First-phase construction is estimated to cost $5.6 million, with bidding scheduled for August and construction expected to last until May 2019.

Also Tuesday, the City Council will vote on approving a $10.4 million upgrade of Napa’s recycling center on Levitin Way to meet more stringent state environmental rules on compost handling and storm runoff.

The project will replace the existing open-air composting system with a combination of concrete slabs and a foot-deep top filter of finished compost to improve air quality and block rainfall. Air blowers and monitors also would be added to govern the composting process, in which organic materials break down in about 45 days.

Meanwhile, drain pipes would be modified to direct stormwater into a collection pond, and a new treatment system would handle 1,000 gallons of runoff per minute.

The upgrades will enable Napa to increase its composting from 40,000 to 66,640 tons of material per year under its state permit, and a new environmental study after the project may raise that cap to 105,000 tons, according to city staff.

C. Overaa & Co. of Richmond submitted the winning bid among three companies, according to the city.