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Vintage High’s Michael Webber picks up six yards before being caught by Napa High outside linebacker Isaac Castrillo (42) on Friday night in the Big Game.

Interest in second housing units picks up in Napa

This year, at last, the time was right for Saanen Kerson.

Born and raised in Napa, a onetime student and softball star at Vintage High School, Kerson had purchased a house west of Highway 29 in 2012. But the fees required for various city permits had dissuaded her from carving out one of its three bedrooms for rental income, until state and city rule changes made her path shorter and cheaper.

“I would rent out a room to winemaking interns during the harvest and crush, and that had worked out really well – a good way to keep working in the nonprofit sector and pay the mortgage in my hometown,” said Kerson, associate director of the Carneros-based Vine Village residential and training center for special-needs adults, which her family helped found in 1973.

“Over time, I felt like it would be nice to have a second unit so I could have my private space on one side of the house.”

The result, by early October, was a pair of residences where there had been only one. Within the walls of the single-story house was what the city calls a junior accessory unit – the former master bedroom improved with a kitchenette, hallway partition, hookups for a washer and dryer, and fencing to create a private yard within the larger yard.

At a cost of 317 square feet and some $14,000 – the majority devoted to permit fees – Kerson added one to the number of residences in Napa County, in a region grappling with historically tight supplies and high rents. And in the city of Napa, others are joining her.

As of mid-October, Napa received 30 permit applications this year to create secondary housing units – popularly known as “granny” or “in-law” units – on existing residential properties, with 24 approved and the remaining six pending, according to the city Planning Division. That figure is up from 18 such applications last year and only seven in 2015.

Michael Walker, a city senior planner, pointed to regulations that aim to reverse policies that treated residences carved out or expanded from existing houses – or crafted within garages, pool houses and freestanding structures – the same as all-new construction, subject to the same fees and design rules.

The resulting costs have discouraged many residents from even asking permission to expand or remodel their homes, the City Council conceded before it passed an ordinance in May 2016 loosening many of Napa’s second-unit rules.

Later in the year, California struck a wider and deeper blow for easier second-dwelling conversions. Gov. Jerry Brown’s signing of Senate Bill 1069 that September blocked water and sewer companies from charging hookup fees on accessory units within an existing house or a freestanding structure on the same lot, and also repealed parking restrictions on companion residences carved out of an existing home or close to public transportation.

“People are starting to think more about the potential of an income-generating property, about offsetting the cost of their existing home,” Walker said Tuesday. “There’s definitely a lot more buzz out there that this is a good and needed form of housing.”

The city’s rule changes cut the normal minimum setback of 20 feet from a rear property line to 5 feet from the back and side boundaries of a lot, and also allow existing structures closer than 5 feet to be converted into living areas.

Residential additions also can have designs that merely “complement” rather than closely “match” the original home, and generally require only reviews from city planning staff rather than a vote of the Planning Commission. (Only units exceeding Napa standards for the ratio of floor space to lot size continue to need commission approval.)

Chris Craiker, a Napa-based architect, said design inquiries with his firm for secondary housing conversions have gone from barely one a year to half a dozen in 2017, four of them within the city of Napa – a change he attributed to the new and less imposing path from permits to groundbreaking, as well as unrelenting demand in a community where less than 2 percent of rental units are vacant.

“Demand is so high that people realize now they can make $1,500 or $2,000 for a one-bedroom,” he said. “If you have $25,000 to put into (remodeling) a garage, in one year you’ve paid for it, so makes a lot of sense for homeowners to do that if they can.”

According to Kerson, some barriers to apartment conversions remain, in the form of city fees that have yet to be rethought. She pointed to the city fee for street improvements around her new secondary dwelling – $2,360 – as one of the largest shares of her budget.

“I was faced with holding up my project for another several months and having no income, or just paying the fee and moving on,” she told council members in early September about the street fee.

Thirty-two days later, on Oct. 7, her first tenant moved into the new apartment – just one day before the start of the Napa County wildfires that almost certainly would have stalled any remaining construction.

Staff members in the Public Works department have discussed creating different street improvement fees for new homes and accessory dwellings, but no council vote on the matter has been scheduled, said Timothy Wood, a city senior civil engineer.

Even so, Kerson called the new addition to her home a large step toward being able to stay there – and in her hometown – for the long haul.

“I’m a native Napan, I work in the nonprofit sector, I love living here, I attended local schools, moved back here shortly after graduating from UC Berkeley, and I’m connected to the community in many many ways,” she said. “I love living here, but it’s very expensive.”

Musicians honor firefighters, first responders at Wine Country Strong concert

YOUNTVILLE — The Napa Valley is nearing one month since wildfires destroyed hundreds of homes and killed more than 40 people in the North Bay. But on Sunday, residents’ feelings of thanks to those who protected them appeared as potent as ever – and a team of musicians helped give voice to that gratitude.

Hundreds packed Yountville’s Lincoln Theater for Wine Country Strong, the concert and picnic staged by Festival Napa Valley to honor firefighters and first responders who joined the battle against three major wildfires that broke out Oct. 8.

“It started taking shape when the fires were still burning,” said Sonia Tolbert, chief operating officer of Festival Napa Valley, the annual summertime series of Upvalley concerts, banquets and winery events. “As a board, we felt strongly that we needed to do something for the community. We decided on having an event to let people to connect around music, and to thank the first responders who saved so many lives.”

Working with the vintner Jean-Charles Boisset, Festival Napa Valley assembled a slate of musicians to appear at Wine Country Strong, as well as a team of chefs and restaurants for an after-concert picnic outside the theater. While both events were free, organizers took donations for the Napa Valley Community Foundation’s Disaster Relief Fund and the Sonoma County Community Foundation Resilience Fund, as well as a drive by Go Fund a Hero to support firefighters who lost their homes to the North Bay disaster.

For their concert headliner, organizers placed a call to Los Angeles, the home city of Ozomatli – a Latin-rock-hip hop fusion band familiar to locals who have attended the BottleRock festival and other Napa Valley concerts.

“When they reached out to us, we were glad to be available, to be a part of it,” said guitarist-vocalist Raul Pacheco of Ozomatli, which performed on the Lincoln Theater’s main stage on a bill with the Silverado Pickups and Vintage High School’s a cappella ensemble. “This is an event where you hope to thank as many people as possible. These first responders, we know how important they are to all the people up here,” he said before the performance.

The thumping backbeats, crunching chords and constant cheering produced an atmosphere of ease and festiveness that gave little clue to the anxiety that had suffused the Lincoln Theater’s surroundings just weeks earlier, when the Nuns Fire approached Yountville from the west and the Veterans Home of California moved more than 100 infirm residents off the campus, out of Napa County and away from the choking smoke.

Ozomatli’s six members urged their audience into rhythmic clapping, but it may have been the Napa Valley-based members of the Silverado Pickups who took their message, their songs, most forcefully into spectators’ hearts.

“This is my community, and I am indebted to our first responders for saving my community,” keyboardist Paul Hoffman said in one of the band’s several paeans to several public safety workers in the audience.

With that, Hoffman and his bandmates launched into a new twist on a rock classic by Lynyrd Skynyrd, transplanted from north Florida to the wine country:

Sweet home Napa Valley,

Where the skies are so blue.

Sweet home Napa Valley,

Lord, I’m coming home to you!

Archer Napa hotel bumps opening to Dec. 1

The opening of Napa’s newest downtown hotel has been postponed to Dec. 1, due to work delays as a result of the October wildfires.

Staff at Archer hotel Napa, 1230 First St., originally planned to welcome its first corporate group— about 50 dentists from a company based in North Carolina — on Oct. 15.

But when road closures and smoke from fires left employees and construction teams unable to work, that plan had to be changed.

“Everything came to a standstill” for about seven to 10 days, said General Manager Michael Collins. “You couldn’t work in that environment.”

At that point, the fire emergency and safety was their only concern, said Collins. “The last thing we were thinking about was construction.”

Instead of hosting the dentists, Archer Napa staff transferred the group to the neighboring Andaz hotel.

“It was unfortunate but we will welcome them back in the spring,” said Collins. “It all turned out just fine.

With a Dec. 1 opening just weeks away, what does it take to get a 183-room hotel ready to put “heads in beds?”

To start with, about 1,000 rolls of toilet paper.

The bathroom tissue was delivered on Wednesday on three shipping pallets to be placed in guest rooms.

Furniture is arriving nightly on First Street by the truckload, usually starting at 6 p.m., said Collins.

Because Coombs Street was still closed off , access on the east side to the hotel remained unavailable.

“Anything you can sit in or sleep in comes in the front door of the hotel,” said Collins. That includes beds, desks, nightstands, lighting and drapery.

As the delivery trucks are emptied, the furniture is staged by room order in the lobby. From there, it’s taken upstairs room by room.

“We have a very aggressive furniture load in plan that we have been able to meet,” said Collins.

As of Wednesday, “We have furniture in guest rooms on second, third and fourth floors of the hotel,” Collins said. Next is the fifth floor.

After the furniture comes, the housekeeping staff is to make beds and add towels, robes and pillows.

“Our team can do an entire floor in one day,” he said.

Meanwhile, some people have already relocated to the property. Collins said he and his administrative staff were able to move into their office space inside the hotel in late October.

“We were all excited to get under one roof,” he said.

Napans may notice visitors at the hotel starting in late November, during an unofficial opening, said Collins. But Dec. 1 is the planned official opening, he said.

Collins said the first hotel groups include a 50th birthday part on Dec. 1 and a wedding on Dec. 2. “That first weekend that we’re up and running is going to be quite exciting.”

The courtyard space between the hotel and First Street Napa retail space will be complete by Nov. 10, said Collins.

People will be able to go from First Street back to Compline — a new wine bar, restaurant, and wine retail shop — unobstructed, he said. “That will be nice to open up the flow of traffic.”

Sidewalks in front of the hotel will open in the next two weeks, after all the furniture is delivered.

Charlie Palmer Steak will open on Nov. 13. Retail in the hotel won’t open till the first quarter of 2018, he said.

“It will be quiet for a little while. That’s OK, we have plenty to keep our guests occupied in the meantime.”

Ruling expected Tuesday on Napa water rate increases

Napa officials will learn whether the city has the go-ahead to raise the price of water delivery – and to impose a minimum charge on all customers for the first time.

The Water Division is pursuing a series of annual rate hikes designed to double its yearly capital investments from the current $3 million to $6 million over the next five years, a step it calls necessary to cope with falling revenue due to a lengthy California drought and the resulting conversation mandates by the state. To that end, Napa proposes to gradually increase service charges, bringing the bill for a family using 5,000 gallons a month from $28 now to $35 next year, and up to $47 in 2022.

Before any increases take effect, the results of a mail-in vote of ratepayers will be revealed at the Napa City Council meeting Tuesday night. Proposition 218 requires local governments to put rate hikes before its customers, who can block an increase if a majority send back mailers declaring their opposition.

As of Thursday, Napa had received 1,879 written protests out of 30,994 notices mailed to water customers, according to city Water Manager Joy Eldredge. Barring a last-minute surge of opposition letters, the rate hikes are scheduled to take effect Dec. 1 and start appearing on customers’ bimonthly bills in February 2018.

The sharpest departure in Napa’s planned water-pricing model is its first-ever universal base charge for all types of customers, regardless of consumption level. Starting with February bills, all users would pay at least $28.59 every two months for addresses connected to a ¾-inch pipe, with the floor going up for larger pipes. The baseline would be raised each October to a minimum of $33.02 in 2018, $38.16 in 2019, $42.95 in 2020 and $48.58 in 2021.

Currently, only those in single-family homes pay a fixed fee, which begins at $16.72 bimonthly for addresses within Napa city limits.

The water-rate package also would charge customers monthly for every 1,000 gallons they use, rather than imposing consumption-based pricing only on those buying 4,000 gallons and up.

Residential customers would see quantity charges start at $4.07 per 1,000 gallons, then rise to $4.23, $4.34, $4.46 and $4.57 over the next four years. Higher rates would be charged to multi-family complexes, commercial buildings and irrigation-based businesses.

City water directors have called a rate increase necessary to deal with maintenance costs for water lines and treatment equipment that have stayed the same, even as sales revenue has fallen from $27 million in the 2013-14 fiscal year to $22.2 million in 2016-17. Napa, like other California cities, saw its revenue go down after the state imposed mandatory water-use reductions of 25 percent starting in 2015 as a response to years of drought.

In addition to maintaining about 350 miles of water pipes – including 20 miles of pipe that are nearly a century old – Napa oversees two watersheds, three treatment plants and 14 storage tanks, a network city officials have said would cost $480 million to build new.

Improvements being pursued by the Water Division include pipes to carry water below Highway 29 and along Third Street, as well as treatment plant upgrades to remove trihalomethanes, a chlorination by-product that scientific studies indicate may increase cancer and other health risks in extremely high concentrations.