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Napa Open Space District reaching out to Latino community

Napa County wants to make certain its parks and open space areas connect with the Hispanic community.

The Napa County Regional Park and Open Space District is receiving help through a $25,000 contract with Soluna Outreach Solutions of Rohnert Park. District officials decided they can’t do the job by themselves.

“Partly it’s because as staff we don’t know quite how to approach some of this,” district General Manager John Woodbury said. “We don’t know who the right messengers are. We don’t know what the community groups are to relate to, in most cases.”

The 2016 American Community Survey found 33.5 percent of the county’s population is Hispanic or Latino. That compares to 23.7 percent in Census 2000.

District officials have no statistics on how many Hispanics use such places as Moore Creek Park near Lake Hennessey or Bothe-Napa Valley State Park near St. Helena. Still, from observation, they think the Hispanic share of attendance at park events is below that 33.5-percent proportional mark.

Soluna is to help the district do such things as tell the Spanish-speaking community about events, help the district recruit bilingual seasonal workers and involve the Spanish-speaking community in programming district events.

Part of what the district will be doing is listening. District officials want to find out what kind of events the Hispanic community would like to see.

“This really needs to be bottom-up in terms of what we do,” Woodbury said.

Napa County Supervisor Belia Ramos is involved in the effort. She recently gave an interview about parks on KBBF, a bilingual radio station out of Santa Rosa.

“The message was the parks and open space is for everyone to enjoy,” Ramos said. “It’s a great opportunity, especially with spring coming, for families to get out and enjoy those open spaces.”

District officials said the Hispanic community generally doesn’t participate in Old Mill Days and Pioneer Christmas at the Bale Grist Mill near St. Helena. Yet the history of the mill is bound up with both Hispanic and non-Hispanic pioneers.

Dr. Edward Turner Bale contracted to build the mill in 1843, but died in 1849. His wife, Maria Soberanes Bale, a niece of Gen. Mariano Vallejo, had the mill rebuilt in 1850 with a 36-foot waterwheel, a park history said.

“Maria Bale really ran the Bale Grist Mill, not her husband,” Woodbury said.

He talked of having events at the Bale Grist Mill that are more relevant to the Hispanic community.

District Board Member Tony Norris said in January that hiring Soluna is a sensible step to be more inclusive of the community. He can see outreach expanding someday to include the Tagalog-speaking Filipino population in American Canyon.

The Open Space District isn’t the only parks group facing an outreach challenge. The National Parks Service found in a 2009 survey that its parks disproportionately served non-Hispanics whites.

A 2011 report done for the National Park Service called this lack of diversity among visitors a critical issue, given that the nation is becoming more diverse. It explored ways to sustain broad public support for parks amid shifting demographics.

Woodbury said that the older he’s gotten, the more he’s realized that efforts to preserve land and resources and a natural legacy won’t succeed if the next generation isn’t involved. The parks are everyone’s parks, he said.

The district intends to pull some ideas together from the local Hispanic outreach for park events by late summer or early fall.

“When it comes to cultural engagement, we have to look at things a little bit differently,” Ramos said. “It’s very promising that’s what the district is doing.”

World of Animals
Kevin the rooster helps lower stress at Napa recovery program

Feeling anxious and worried? Kevin the rooster can warm the cockles – make that cockle-doodle-doos — of your heart.

Furry animals such as golden retrievers don’t have a corner on the therapy animal world. A feathery creature with comb, wattle, beak and claws can fit the bill as well.

Kevin is a resident at the substance abuse treatment program run by the McAlister Institute for Treatment and Education on the grounds of Napa State Hospital. He has plenty of fans among the clients who live at the center during their recoveries.

“He helps me calm down,” said Bianca Solorio recently. “I do breathing techniques and hold him. He’s calm. I feel like he can feel me – my emotions.”

Other clients wrote testimonials for Kevin to Jeanne McAlister, the CEO of the El Cajon-based McAlister Institute.

“I talk to Kevin all the time,” one wrote. “I pick him up and hold him and pet him till he falls asleep in my arms! He helps sooth my emotions for a while. And he’s funny when he runs to you, because he knows you have treats for him.”

One noted how Kevin each night jumps on the same tree branch and faces toward where the sun will rise.

“He kind of brings me back to reality, to be at peace, just with life on natural terms,” he wrote. “To watch him, how he lives in harmony with us. He walks and lives among us. He’s friendly and he’s one of us.”

The white andred, year-old rooster simply showed up at the center last July 1, said Josh Levy of the McAlister Institute.

“He was totally domesticated when he got here,” Levy said.

The rooster’s presence reminded Levy of an ad he had seen on Craigslist. This ad is an obscene rant by a person trying to get rid of a Kevin the rooster who bothered neighbors with 5 a.m. wake-up calls.

So the McAlister Institute rooster became Kevin simply because the name stuck in Levy’s mind. The local Kevin delivers 6 a.m. wake-up calls, but it’s no problem because the clients have to get up anyway.

“He’s like a natural alarm clock,” Levy said.

Kevin is no fly-by-night therapy animal. He’s been checked over by a veterinarian and is certified by the National Service Animal Registry. Granted, the registry is a private, for-profit, Colorado-based company. But nevertheless, Kevin has a certificate with his picture on it.

The better test, perhaps, is what Kevin and other pets provide to people.

“It’s unconditional love,” Levy said. “Humans, by nature, judge. A lot of those clients have been judged their whole lives because of their addictions.”

But not everybody loves Kevin, apparently. McAlister Institute pays a price for the rooster’s presence.

The program receives clients from the Napa County Health and Human Services Agency and Napa County Probation Department. The combined contracts total about $792,000 annually, according to county records. No problem for Kevin there.

A third source of clients are state parolees steered to the program by a state contractor, Center Point of San Rafael. Levy said this arrangement helps with the program’s finances.

Center Point considers Kevin “a farm animal” instead of an emotional support animal, Levy said. It won’t enroll more state clients until Kevin leaves. It usually enrolls about 50 parolees annually.

Officials with Center Point couldn’t be reached for a comment.

McAlister Institute is standing by its rooster. Even so, Kevin’s long-term future is uncertain because Napa County put the contract for its programs out to bid last year. A neutral selection committee chose Center Point as the new operator. County officials said a contract is being worked on and the goal is to have Center Point start in July.

Kevin will have a soft landing somewhere, whether on a farm or as a therapy animal at another location. Levy doesn’t want to leave Kevin behind when the McAlister Institute transitions out, given that Center Point apparently doesn’t want the rooster.

For now, Kevin continues to prove that a rooster can be soft and cuddly.

“It’s amazing, huh?” Levy said as a client gave Kevin a hug and then went on to give Kevin a kiss on the beak.

Napa Valley Marathon
Napa Valley Marathon honors running pioneer Joan Benoit Samuelson

On Sunday, the Napa Valley Marathon marked its 40th year in the wine country, a span of time stretching back almost to the debut of a pioneering women’s champion – and the Napa race’s guest of honor in this anniversary year.

Highlighting the marathon’s companion 5-kilometer run was Joan Benoit Samuelson, the world-record holder who captured the gold medal in the first Olympic women’s marathon in 1984. A day after regaling marathon fans with tales of her rise to fame, she joined other runners while offering a glimpse of the running form that helped lead the way for numerous women who followed in her footsteps.

During a Saturday interview at the Napa Valley Marriott marked as much by unaffected humility as much as friendliness, Benoit Samuelson, now 60, recalled her unassuming start in the sport that eventually boosted her to world fame. Recovering from a broken leg suffered while skiing, she took up distance running and in the 1979 Boston Marathon – only her second time competing at 26.2 miles – bested the women’s course record by eight minutes on her way to victory.

“I just went out and ran,” she recalled when asked about her running strategy by Joe Henderson, the former editor of Runner’s World magazine. “I always ran the way I felt. The marathon is like a metaphor for life; you don’t know how you’ll feel around the next turn. I truly don’t have a game plan – I just go out and run.”

Five years after the victory in Boston, Benoit Samuelson was on the starting line as the Summer Olympics hosted its first women’s marathon. Breaking from the pack despite the energy-sapping August heat, she grabbed the lead after only three miles and made the cushion stand up, all the way to the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum and the top step on the podium.

“There was a helicopter over San Vicente (Boulevard) and I remember looking up, and noting it was starting to go back a ways,” she remembered of her gold-medal performance, 84 seconds ahead of second-place Grete Waitz. “I had nothing to lose so I gambled, and it worked.

Visiting the Napa Valley for its hometown marathon, Benoit Samuelson, who also ran 20 miles of the course in 2008 while preparing for the U.S. Olympic trials, made clear that not only her past glories but that chance to be around today’s runners had drawn her to the wine country.

“I’ve been around the sport a long time so I have a lot of stories to tell, but I like to hear from the runners too,” she said last week before traveling to Napa. “I’ve resorted to storytelling as my way to gear up to the goals I have my sights on. I want to hear from other runners, whether it’s over a cup of coffee or a glass of wine or side by side.”

Recovering from knee surgery, Benoit Samuelson chose to enter only Napa’s shorter Kiwanis 5K Fun Run on Sunday morning, a small step toward her goal of running the first sub-3-hour marathon by a woman 60 or older.

“Oh my God, I’ve got some training to do!” she exclaimed after completing the out-and-back course at Vintage High School 20 minutes and 24 seconds later, the eighth finisher overall. Eighty seconds earlier, the first runner had crossed the finish line: Madison Denny, a 14-year-old from Fairfield less than a quarter of Benoit Samuelson’s age.

The opening of distance running and other sports to female athletes like Denny was a movement in which Benoit Samuelson was at the vanguard – a fact that may have made her more proud than the records broken or the championships won more than three decades ago.

“I was in high school in 1972 when Title IX was passed,” she said during her Saturday interview, referring to the anti-discrimination bill that launched the rise of high school and college sports for women and girls. “When the door was opened to women, I wasn’t going to let it shut. And many, many women felt the same thing.”

Would-be cannabis sellers seek looser boundaries in Napa

Napa’s ordinance allowing sales of medical marijuana is barely two months old, but some would-be sellers are asking the city to loosen its reins on where they can do business.

Tuesday night, the City Council will weigh changes to the cannabis ordinance it passed in December opening certain areas of Napa to dispensaries. Among them is a call to shrink from 1,000 to 600 feet the distance retailers must keep away from schools, day care centers, playgrounds and other gathering places for children, a step that could add to the two legal shop sites officials have identified so far.

The push by cannabis advocates to make more areas available for retailing comes as Napa fields about 20 calls a week from people asking about going into business within city limits, according to City Manager Mike Parness.

Several locations have become the shared focus for many of the would-be dispensary operators, he wrote council members last week – even though sales at several of them would be banned as Napa’s ordinance is written. Allowing marijuana retailing closer to schools is expected to lead to four more dispensary applications, joining three already under city evaluation.

The ordinance allows applicants to seek out retail locations for medicinal marijuana in areas zoned for industry, office parks and medical offices. However, Napa’s rule goes beyond California’s 600-foot buffer from child-friendly operations, setting a wider boundary that some cannabis advocates have called too restrictive.

Dispensaries also cannot be next door to or across the street from homes, and must be within 200 feet of the nearest public street to allow law enforcement officers to see the entrances.

Eight sites suggested for marijuana sales have been ruled out so far, according to Parness, in some cases by the barest of margins. One location on Enterprise Court is within 1,000 feet of a small portion of Napa Golf Course at Kennedy Park – even though Asylum Slough blocks foot access from one to the other.

Only two sites proposed by applicants so far have met all the conditions, Parness wrote in his memorandum to the council. An application currently under city review targets Second Street west of California Boulevard, while another application is expected on Enterprise Way north of Kaiser Road in the south of town.

Besides shrinking the buffer around youth-friendly properties, other possible changes to Napa’s dispensary law could include waiving the under-200-foot distance requirement from cannabis store entrances to streets, and allowing sales at more sites with natural barriers such as the Napa River separating them from schools or youth clubs. Currently, the law allows such exceptions to the 1,000-foot minimum when Highway 29 separates a youth site from a dispensary.

While debating the legalization of marijuana sales in November, councilmembers discussed a more lenient 600-foot buffer from child-friendly sites but went with the wider boundary to comply with state open-meeting law, which would have required rescheduling their vote on the ordinance.