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Lucas Gramlick (75), the Lineman of the Year on the All-Solano County Athletic Conference team and a captain for American Canyon High School, will join the UC Davis football team as a preferred walk-on starting in the summer.

Hazing victim sues Napa school district, Napa High football coaches

A second lawsuit has been filed against Napa Valley Unified School District and Napa High staff members in relation to hazing incidents within the school’s football department.

The lawsuit filed on behalf of an unnamed minor in U.S. District Court this week alleges that NVUSD, Napa High principal Annie Petrie, former athletic director Brian King, and football coaches Troy Mott and Gerald Harris not only knew about the football team’s “pervasive” and “ritualistic” hazing practices, but also condoned them.

The school district had no comment. District policy is not to comment on pending or ongoing litigation, Elizabeth Emmett, NVUSD spokesperson, said Thursday.

The plaintiff’s attorney, William Johnson of Bennett & Johnson, LLP in Oakland, was not available for a comment.

The suit also alleges that the plaintiff, who was on the freshman football team, was jumped, held down and violated by another student, a teammate identified by initials only, on Nov. 30, 2016.

The student was entering the boys’ locker room around lunchtime to change his clothes when another student grabbed him, overpowered him and forced him to the ground, according to the suit. While restraining him, the boy’s attacker began “dry humping” him, grabbed his genitals and, through clothing, poked him in the butt, the suit alleges.

There were other students around at the time and the attack created a commotion in the locker room, which, the suit asserts, should have alerted any nearby staff member that something was going on.

This practice, which was known as “poking” or “getting the freshman,” was repeated year after year, alleges the suit, with the prior year’s victims becoming the attackers. Similar incident occurred in 2014, 2015 and 2016, according to the suit.

The suit alleges that Petrie and NVUSD knew about hazing within the school’s cheerleading program in 2015 and knew that similar practices were being conducted within the football team.

The assault caused the victim educational detriment, emotional harm, humiliation, pain, suffering, psychological harm, mental anguish, the loss of enjoyment and quality of life, and loss of future earnings, according to the suit. He is alleging negligence against all the defendants, a violation of Title IX, a federal law governing school-based athletics, against NVUSD, and sexual battery, intentional infliction of emotional distress and false imprisonment by the student attacker.

The lawsuit comes after the student presented a claim for damages to the district last April, which the district denied in the fall, according to the suit.

This is the second lawsuit filed against the district in relation to hazing within Napa High’s football department.

The earlier suit, which was filed last June, named five minor defendants as well as some staff members. The student victim, according to that suit, was beaten and sexually assaulted in the locker room by junior varsity football players on Oct. 31, just days before the annual “Big Game” against rival Vintage High School.

The next court date for that case was scheduled for Feb. 16.

Six Napa High teens were charged criminally by the Napa County District Attorney’s Office for acts related to the hazing investigation.

Mott resigned as head coach, but still teaches physical education at Napa High. King resigned from the athletic director position.

End of a tradition: downtown Napa cafe and store closes after 24 years

A Napa tradition has come to an end. On Friday, longtime downtown café and store Napa Valley Traditions will close.

“We’ve loved it,” said business owner Cheryl Richburg. “I enjoyed the entire 24 years.” But, “now is the time to move on.”

Traditions – as it is commonly known as — was facing a significant rent increase, said Richburg.

She’d already consolidated the business into the much smaller “annex” space in the back of the original shop. But after the holiday season ended, the customers just haven’t been there, she said.

Richburg bought the café and retail business 24 years ago, she recalled. Before that, it was named Witter’s Tea, Coffee & Animal Crackers.

Besides selling coffee, tea, housewares, gifts, cards and other items, the family’s former wine business, Bayview Cellars, was also located at back of the shop for about 10 years.

During her tenure as owner, “there were ups and downs,” Richburg said. “There were times when business was really good.”

In fact, for many years the whole commercial structure, named the Lazarus building, was full.

A toy store, furniture store, restaurants, book store, dance studio and other business drew both locals and visitors up and down the block. Her corner store spot, at 1202 Main St., had great visibility. There was readily available street parking.

There were also times when business wasn’t so good.

The store was impacted by economic downturns, she said, including the Great Recession.

After many wineries started charging for tastings, the people who came to Napa Valley began to focus on the wine alone and less on shopping, Richburg said.

“That affected us,” she said.

Two significant floods and the 2014 earthquake were other challenges, along with construction and street closures during various downtown projects.

“You just had to survive and not complain,” Richburg said.

Through the years, this shopkeeper said she was careful to update her inventory to keep it current and appealing to customers.

“We had a style (of) what I saw as Napa Valley,” said Richburg. “I only bought things that (we) would buy ourselves.”

At different times, that “we” included her sister Barbara Rhoda, brother Chuck Simonds and mother Lita Simonds, who each worked at the store.

Traditions “was a family,” that also included both former and longtime employees, she said. “We treasure that.”

The decision to downsize operations into the back room came after Richburg faced a rent increase of three times what she had been paying.

“I couldn’t support that,” said Richburg.

The move meant Traditions had to eliminate tea and coffee service.

Customers didn’t seem to take to the new Traditions, said Richburg.

“It’s too small,” she admitted. The shop went from about 3,500 square feet to just 900 square feet.

Customers still had visions of what Traditions used to be, she said. They still wanted “the whole enchilada,” she said.

As remodeling noise and commotion began in the space next door that Traditions had vacated, it was too much, said Richburg.

“They are doing a great job, but it’s not something I can deal with.”

“That’s really what caused me to decide not to continue the little space,” said Richburg.

Richburg doesn’t blame landlord Marilyn Lazarus.

In other buildings around Napa, “You will hear the same story – rents being increased, people moving out.”

However, she wondered if the new lease rates being asked for older buildings are realistic. She’s afraid such turnover is driving away those smaller locally-owned business.

Lazarus could not be reached for a comment.

Richburg has not been the only tenant to leave the Lazarus building due to rent increases.

In July, Sandy Nugent had to temporarily close her business, Napa Valley Dance Center, and move out of her space at the Lazarus building. She was also facing a significant rent increase, Nugent said at the time.

Nugent recently announced that her business has reopened at the Napa Valley Performing Arts Center, Lincoln Theater in Yountville.

As Richburg’s days with Traditions draw to a close, she remains grateful for the chance to say goodbye.

“The local people who have supported us have been great,” said Richburg. “We’ve enjoyed visiting with all of them during the transition.”

“It’s been a great ride,” she said.

Wine industry
Grape growers report early Napa County bud break

The year’s first signs of life have come to Napa Valley vineyards, marking an exceptionally early start to the grape growing season here.

The Napa Valley Grapegrowers announced Thursday that bud break, the first stage of vine growth — where vines emerge from their winter dormancy and begin to produce shoots that will one day bear grapes — has begun in areas like the southern Carneros region. Vines in the area are typically the first in Napa County to begin the growing season and are among the first to be harvested each year.

Ushered in by a weeks-long bout of unseasonably warm and dry weather, this year’s bud break launches the growing season roughly two weeks earlier than the 2017 season, according to Garrett Buckland, president of the Napa Valley Grapegrowers, in an announcement from the group.

Buckland noted that in addition to the warmer climes of the past weeks, replantings have also taken place in vineyards throughout the county over the last several years, resulting in younger vines that tend to undergo bud break earlier.

As usual, white varietals like Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc are among those whose buds have broken first, said Brittany Pederson, viticulturist with Renteria Vineyard Management.

Pederson added that a cold front is expected in the coming days, “which will slow down bud break. However, it’s already started in some locations.”

A start to the growing season this early can be cause for concern among growers, as the buds that have broken thus far are now susceptible to damage from frost or rain.

Low water is also an issue, Pederson said. “We haven’t gotten very much rain yet this winter. So that’s a big issue if we have a longer growing season and if it’s drought year, trying to figure out where all our water’s going to come from.”

In its release, the Grapegrowers noted the weather alert system the group offers its members via text and voice messages. The system is currently on frost watch, the group said, and tracking nighttime temperatures.

With the threat of frost, Buckland said that growers are maintaining cover crops, including mustard, which is currently blooming throughout the region, and are “making sure to keep it mowed as a preventative frost protection measure.”

Pederson said growers are also ensuring their wind machines and sprinkler systems are up and running to protect against frost, should it set in while the buds are still vulnerable.

While Carneros is normally the first indicator of where things are starting to happen as far as Chardonnay, Pederson also noted that “Cabernet doesn’t look like it’s too, too far behind in some of the mountains.”

In particular, vines on Mount Veeder appear to be “fairly close” as well, she said. “Some of the mountain fruit always tends to ripen a little quicker because it’s sometimes not as cold; it gets above the inversion layer.”

Though of the vines that have already shown bud break, Pederson said, “it’s a pretty low percentage still.”

“It definitely is block dependent and variety and clone dependent,” she said, estimating that in Chardonnay vineyards only 2 to 5 percent of vines are currently showing bud break.

After environmental lawsuit, St. Helena agrees to bypass more water into creek

ST. HELENA — The City Council has approved a short-term plan to bypass more water from Bell Canyon Reservoir into Bell Creek, in response to a lawsuit claiming that the city has degraded fish habitat in the creek by historically capturing too much water in the reservoir.

The council also approved contracts to install equipment measuring how much water the city diverts from Bell Creek, and to conduct studies that will lay the groundwork for a permanent bypass plan within the next 12 to 18 months.

Mayor Alan Galbraith said that although he voted for the interim bypass plan, the council will need to pay close attention to the upcoming technical studies to ensure that the final plan will not significantly affect the city’s water supply.

The council’s actions on Tuesday drew praise from Water Audit California, an environmental group that filed a lawsuit in 2016 claiming the city had historically diverted too much water from Bell Creek into Bell Canyon Reservoir, one of St. Helena’s three primary water sources. The actions taken Tuesday comply with a settlement agreement approved last August.

Water Audit’s advisory board concluded that the interim bypass plan “reconfigures releases to more closely mirror natural events” without resulting in “unacceptable loses to the City’s deliveries,” according to a Feb. 8 letter from Grant Reynolds, a director of Water Audit.

“It provides for monitoring and measuring to contemporary standards, and agrees upon the course of further scientific investigation by proposing a stream study that will be used to create the final bypass plan,” Reynolds wrote. “Bravo!”

Water Audit’s lawsuit claimed that the city’s failure to bypass sufficient water into Bell Creek contributed to the decline of steelhead, which haven’t been found in the creek downstream of the reservoir since before 1990. Reynolds and Water Audit have pursued similar litigation against the city of Calistoga and the California Department of Veterans Affairs, which operates Rector Reservoir outside Yountville.

The interim plan approved Tuesday requires the city to bypass more water from the reservoir to the creek between Nov. 15 and April 15. The city’s permit already prohibits the city from storing water that enters the reservoir between April 16 and Nov. 14.

A biologist hired by the city recommended the bypass flows contained in the interim plan. According to a staff report, hydrologists concluded that the flows “would have a minimal impact on the storage volume of the reservoir and would not require the City to tap any other sources of water to make up for the difference.”

Most of the additional water that will be bypassed was already being released over the reservoir’s spillway when it was at full capacity, the hydrologists calculated. The new flows would only affect the city’s water supply during drought years, and even then the difference would be small, they concluded.

For example, in 2014 the reservoir was 95 percent full under the city’s old bypass procedures. It would have been 85 percent full under the new interim plan.

Galbraith cautioned that the reservoir is “not in happy condition” amidst an unusually dry rainy season. It was at only 58.9 percent of full capacity as of Monday.

Any rain that falls after April 15 can’t be stored in the reservoir, so if it doesn’t come close to spilling by then this could be a difficult year. Galbraith said the technical studies need to examine how the additional bypass would affect the city’s water supply during drought years when the reservoir doesn’t fill, such as 2007.

For about 20 years, the city was taking about 1,500-1,600 acre-feet (one acre-foot is about 326,000 gallons) from Bell Canyon, Galbraith said. When city officials realized in the late 2000s that the city wasn’t complying with the terms of its permit, that number went down to about 1,000 acre-feet.

The city’s 600 acre-foot Napa water contract “basically replaced the water that we used to take from Bell Canyon until we came into compliance with our state permits,” Galbraith said.

“That’s a heck of a hit we’ve already taken to Bell Canyon, and I just don’t see that the city can risk any further material hit to Bell Canyon without significant interruption of economic life here in St. Helena,” he said.

The expenditures approved Tuesday were already included in the city’s Capital Improvement Budget.