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Warren Winiarski

Napa Valley Vintners disburses $6.2 million to healthcare agencies

The local wine industry’s primary trade group, Napa Valley Vintners, on Thursday announced its annual grants to health nonprofits to the tune of $6.2 million.

Of the 18 nonprofits receiving funds, OLE Health, the county’s only nonprofit health clinic, tops the list with a grant of $1 million. Following closely at $835,000 is Aldea Children & Family Services and Queen of the Valley’s CARE Network at $550,000.

This NVV funding not only benefits more than 100,000 nonprofit clients in Napa each year, but has also proved vital during disasters like the recent wildfires and 2014 South Napa earthquake, the group said.

“We’re funding the organization as a whole for them to meet their mission,” said Becky Peterson, NVV’s Member and Community Relations director. “So if they need to divert the funding,” for instance to help more fire victims, “they can do that with our money.”

The agencies on the receiving end must apply for the grants each year, and amounts are dispersed based on a nonprofit’s size and budget, as NVV funding cannot make up more than 25 percent of their annual budgets.

Years of regular funding has also strengthened nonprofits like OLE Health, which was among the organizations that, in the wake of the fires, sent medical staff to evacuation centers to serve as first responders. Other NVV grant recipients like Aldea Children & Family Services also responded, offering mental health services at evacuation centers while the fires raged.

With the latest round of giving, NVV’s contributions to Napa nonprofits have exceeded $170 million, tracing back to the group’s founding of its primary fundraiser, Auction Napa Valley, in 1981.

The lavish Auction is held over the course of an early summer weekend each year. Preceded by a barrel auction, and this year an E-auction, the fundraiser’s main event takes place on the fairway at Meadowood Resort, featuring a who’s who of wine industry members, celebrities, and political figures. A $2,500 ticket offers attendees a chance to bid on lots stacked with far-flung trips, exclusive dinners and, of course, wine.

Three bidders each shelled out $700,000 for the top-earning lot at this year’s event for a combined total of $2.1 million, earning themselves each a trip to France, winery tours, dinners and rare wine from Colgin Cellars, which hosted the lot. Ultimately, the 2017 auction reeled in $15.7 million.

On top of the ongoing funding of nonprofits, money raised from such lots over the years was also at the ready in the form of the Napa Valley Community Disaster Relief Fund when the wildfires struck wine country on the night of Oct. 8.

Managed by the Napa Valley Community Foundation and created with a $10 million grant from NVV following the 2014 South Napa earthquake, the relief fund was reactivated immediately after the fires began.

“We had the great fortune of surplus funding from the Vintners following the 2014 earthquake, which enabled us to make some investments between these two disasters,” said Napa Valley Community Foundation President Terence Mulligan.

Building on the $2.9 million left over from the original $10 million, the fund has grown exponentially since the fires, Mulligan said, and is again at approximately $10 million.

With recovery from the wildfires continuing today, NVV also noted plans to disperse an additional $2.8 million to the children’s education sector next month, in keeping with its second area of strategic giving alongside community health.

Fire Assistance
Pop-up store for Napa fire victims closing next week

Community #NapaStrong, the storefront where Napa County residents affected by the October wildfires have been able to obtain free assistance in the form of clothing and household items, is closing next week.

The store, which opened Oct. 22 at a space in the River Park Shopping Center, will have its last day on Nov. 26, according to organizers.

The store has provided goods for nearly 300 households, says Stephani Stephenson, an organizer.

“When we first opened, our whole mission was to (help) everybody that has been affected (by the fires),” Stephenson said. That included people who had lost their homes as well as individuals who were renting or working on a property that burned.

“It’s a fine line, though,” she said. The store was getting folks who hadn’t experienced “extreme loss,” such as the loss of home goods, coming into the store and taking things such as bedding and clothing. Stephenson said that those items were meant for people who had lost everything.

Individuals who lost a few weeks of paychecks were expected to take things like toiletries, cleaning supplies, diapers and tampons.

Although many of the Napa County homes lost in the fires were owned by high-income people, Stephenson said, there were plenty of people who didn’t have the “gift of insurance” coming to them.

More than 600 homes in the county were either destroyed or badly damaged by the fires, according to Napa County’s latest count. Cal Fire’s count lists 593 residences destroyed and 87 damaged.

Because the Community #NapaStrong storefront still has so much merchandise, it has opened its doors to fire victims beyond Napa County, said Bryan Tapper, another organizer.

“I think we’re getting a lot more people from Santa Rosa,” Tapper said Tuesday.

One of the problems with opening the shop up to victims from other counties, though, Stephenson says, is transportation. Napa isn’t exactly convenient for those travelling from other counties.

On top of that, space may be a problem for fire victims. Without housing, Stephenson wondered where people will put receiving the goods.

“A lot of people don’t have places and they don’t have the room to store anything,” she said. If the store could stay open longer, she said it would.

Unless an influx of victims makes it into the store before the end of the month, organizers and volunteers will still have a lot of inventory to deal with.

“We definitely have a plan,” Tapper said. Organizers are looking to pass their leftover items to other nonprofits in the Bay Area, he said. Some of the higher-end items, he said, will be sold online with profits to be donated locally.

The Healdsburg Free Store, which inspired the opening of the Napa store, is also closing by the end of the month, said Ariel Kelley, chairwoman of Corazón Healdsburg, the nonprofit behind the store.

Over the course of five weeks, the store has helped more than 1,000 individuals, Kelley said Wednesday.

Unlike the Napa store, the Healdsburg store doesn’t anticipate having leftovers. And, Kelley said, it won’t be taking Napa’s leftovers.

“It’s really just the clothing that’s the issue,” Kelley said. “Everything else is flying off the shelves.”

Much of the clothing, she said, consists of items that should have gone to the dump. “The leftover items never should have been donated in the first place.” The Healdsburg Free Store has been turning away many people wishing to donate clothing. Instead, she said, they have gotten large donations of new clothing from stores.

“We turn about 20 to 30 people away a day,” Kelley said. Instead, she said, people looking to donate should ask those affected by fires what they need.

The storefront was an answer to an urgent need, she said, but isn’t part of the long-term solution. The Healdsburg Free Store, located at 190 Foss Creek Circle Unit K, is scheduled to close Nov. 30.

October's fires shouldn't faze Napa's economy, analyst reports

There should be no lingering damage to the Napa Valley wine industry brand or tourism as a result of the October wildfires, economist Robert Eyler, Ph.D., told a Napa audience this week.

On the other hand, Napa County is already facing a relatively constricted labor market – especially in construction – “and it’s going to get a little bit worse” as a result of the fires, said Eyler, president of Economic Forensics and Analytics, Inc.

The economist made his comments Tuesday night at an event hosted by Morgan Stanley wealth management. More than 50 people attended the gathering, held at the CIA at Copia, to hear Eyler’s thoughts on the local, state and national economies.

In Napa County, a flow of money from insurance companies and state and federal funds will ensure that there’s no barrier to rebuilding, he said.

While the fires impacted certain wineries more severely than others, fire damage to the overall wine industry is not enough to upset revenue forecasts and overall production levels, he said.

“This is just a very tragic hiccup” in the five-to-10-year future of where the wine industry was already headed “and it will basically be washed away by next year’s harvest,” said Eyler, also a professor of Economics at Sonoma State University and director of the Center for Regional Economic Analysis at Sonoma State.

Marketing campaigns by groups such as Visit Napa Valley and Visit California will help with the recovery after the fires, he said.

Visitors need to be informed that for the most part, Napa was undamaged by the fires, and the restaurants and wineries are still here.

Those campaigns “will catch on,” he said.

At the same time, consumer perception of possible smoke-tainted wine from 2017 is an unknown factor.

“We don’t know how consumers are going to react after they taste it,” he said. If they say it tastes smoky and that opinion spreads, it could affect sales, he said.

As a result of the loss of or severe damage to an estimated 637 homes in Napa County, the demand for construction and other related workers will be great, Eyler noted.

“One of the biggest things we’re concerned about is how do we take an already close-to-full employment industry and ask it to do more. You end up importing labor to satisfy demand.”

Napa’s unemployment rate – 3.2 percent in September –remains one of the lowest in the state.

Eyler said he expects that some wine industry workers may be drawn to construction jobs, which then impacts the wine industry. “We should expect a lot of labor market substitution and shifting,” he said.

To accommodate the need for such workers, “We should prepare ourselves to ask our community colleges and high schools to at least consider to start preparing students for careers in construction given the demand that’s going to be here locally.”

Eyler also said that it’s also important that Napa and Sonoma counties work together to rebuild both areas. “This is a regional issue not a local only issue.”

“If we can coordinate resources, labor, contracts, developers, and do it in a regional way,” reconstruction will be speedier, he said.

Statewide, Eyler said he expects the California growth rate to be greater than the U.S. economy over the next three years.

“Napa remains the regional star” after the Great Recession, he said.

The county’s investment in tourism “paid off big,” he said. Napa County has had 3.5 percent job growth since 2016 and 3,100 new jobs have been created since last year, he noted.

“Napa looks very good.”

By March, October’s tourism downturn will be a fading memory, he said.

Wine Industry
Court rules for city of St. Helena in battle over Davies winery

ST. HELENA — A state appellate court has upheld a lower court’s ruling in favor of the city in a lawsuit involving the Davies Vineyards tasting room on Grayson Avenue.

A ruling issued by the First District Court of Appeals on Nov. 8 rejects arguments by representatives of Citizens’ Voice St. Helena who claimed the City Council violated the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) and the city’s own zoning ordinance and General Plan by approving the tasting room and expanded winery in 2014 without ordering a full environmental impact report.

The ruling confirms a previous judgment by Napa County Superior Court Judge Rodney Stone, who ruled that opponents didn’t adequately express their objections during public hearings on the project. His ruling was appealed by the plaintiffs, Susan Kenward and Geoff Ellsworth on behalf of Citizens’ Voice. Ellsworth was elected to the City Council in 2016.

Kenward said Citizen’s Voice will not appeal the decision.

“Both Geoff and I would like to thank the hundreds of citizens who contributed to this effort with their time, energy and money,” Kenward said. “We found the ruling nothing less than bewildering and leaves us both saddened and disappointed at those on the City Council, Planning Commission and our town attorney, who consistently advocated and defended a project that made our school zone less safe, putting one citizen’s commercial interest above the safety of our town’s children. We continue to work statewide for safe alcohol-free school zones.”

The council allowed the winery in the old Epps Chevrolet building to expand production from 20,000 to 75,000 gallons per year. It also permitted the construction of a tasting room and hospitality center on Grayson Avenue behind A&W and across from St. Helena High School.

Kenward and Ellsworth were among various people who objected to the project’s effects on traffic, parking, noise and water, and questioned the safety of building a tasting room next to a school.

However, the ruling points to mitigation measures, such as a new crosswalk on Grayson Avenue, that the city required in order to reduce the project’s impacts to “less than significant” levels under CEQA.

“Citizen’s Voice makes no genuine attempt to demonstrate how the mitigation measures are inadequate in addressing concerns generated by the proposed project,” the ruling states.

The court also rejected claims that the project violated the city’s General Plan and zoning ordinance. The General Plan prohibition of “strictly tourist-serving retail uses” in the Service Commercial zoning district doesn’t expressly outlaw projects like this one, the court ruled.

“Some of the other features of the planned expansion might appear to be oriented to tourists, but not exclusively,” the ruling states. “There is nothing in the administrative record establishing that the ‘hospitality building’ … would attract only tourists.”

The court also ruled that the council had discretion to waive the zoning ordinance’s prohibition of buildings larger than 10,000 square feet, since the council found that the applicant “cannot operate its winery effectively without expanding the footprint.”

The applicant has been paying for the city’s legal defense.