The array of hotels, restaurants and wine tasting rooms that drives much of Napa’s economy continues to grow. But how much benefit flows to those who live and work in the city?
In the first public gathering of candidates for the Napa City Council, five people seeking votes in the November election wrestled with how best to steer more of the local economic bounty toward residents as swelling housing costs threaten to crowd out lower-wage workers and families.
The contrast between burgeoning revenue from wine-country vacationers and cost-of-living concerns for non-tourists highlighted a debate Thursday night at the Napa Valley College Performing Arts Center that featured incumbent Peter Mott and four others pursuing two seats on the council. (One of the seats is held by Jim Krider, a former council member who was appointed after the November retirement of Juliana Inman and will not seek a full term.)
Joining Mott, who is completing his third term, at the forum were former Councilmember Mary Luros; James Hinton, a past candidate for Congress and the Napa County Board of Supervisors; and ballot-box newcomers Ricky Hurtado and Bernie Narvaez.
Another candidate, Liz Alessio, was absent due to a scheduling conflict, according to the Associated Students of Napa Valley College, the debate’s sponsor.
Questions submitted by audience members, NVC faculty and others sought to shine a light on would-be councilmembers’ views on topics ranging from child abuse prevention to reducing homelessness to the Measure C oak woodland protection initiative. But Napa candidates turned much of the debate’s focus onto opening up the housing supply—with median sale prices north of $600,000 – supporting steps like easier permitting, higher-density construction or cutting a larger slice of hotel-driven taxes to fund homes within reach of working families.
“I see friends having to leave town because they can’t afford the housing; I see businesses that are closing shop because they can’t afford the rents,” said Luros, a Napa lawyer who was appointed to the council in 2015 and served nearly two years. “I see hotels with room rates I can never pay, restaurants I can’t afford to eat in. I see an imbalance between what we provide to tourists and what we provide our residents.”
A growing number of hotel rooms – with applications for more than 1,500 more under city review – have boosted Napa’s flow of bed-tax revenue, which now accounts for a quarter of the budget’s general fund.
However, the shift toward a tourism-based economy has made Napa’s housing shortage even more acute, creating a mismatch of tight supplies, high prices and low-wage jobs that force hospitality workers to commute from elsewhere and crimp local spending, argued Narvaez, an insurance agency owner who formerly served on the city parks commission.
“My first priority is housing that people can afford, providing the resources so that people who work here and live here – and not just rent here but become homeowners, so they can work here, so they can spend their money here,” he said.
Napa stands a better chance of relieving some of its housing crunch if it can partner with tourism businesses, added Mott, proposing a new self-assessment by local hotels to cover rent assistance as well as residential construction.
“If they (help) build housing, they get employees,” he said. “If they build housing that people can own, they get lifetime employees.”
“We can’t just affordable-housing our way out of this problem; the funding is too small. We have to find solutions that will put people into market-rate housing.”
Hinton, meanwhile, promoted a set-aside of 4 percent of the 12.5 percent hotel-room tax toward affordable housing and road maintenance as a way to relieve some of the strain on city resources from commuters. He also called on Napa to more stringently crack down on illegal in-home innkeeping on Airbnb and other online services, a practice that has continued despite the city’s creation of a licensing program to collect bed taxes from residents charging tourists for rooms.
Hurtado, a community engagement manager for the nonprofit Cope Family Center, turned his attention toward reducing homelessness in Napa. While shelters and outdoor encampments form much of the popular image of the local homeless population, he pointed to the need for better support services for others with many years as residents but without stable homes – including women fleeing domestic violence, or those unable to make monthly rents and forced to couch-surf.
“These are people we’ve gone to church with, said Hurtado. “These are people we’ve played sports with.”
Though downtown hotels like the Andaz and Archer have done the most to reshape downtown in the last decade, a yet-unbuilt project also divided the council candidates: the four-story civic center Napa is pursuing on First Street as the hub of its city departments and law enforcement.
While the civic center is meant to replace an undersized and 67-year-old City Hall building, Luros warned that the project’s widening scope – the plans include a new police station, as well as an expanded parking garage and a mixed hotel-housing-retail center at Napa’s current headquarters – places the city at risk if revenues fail to cover the civic building’s estimated $110 million cost.
“We don’t need the project to be so big, if all we need is a new City Hall,” she told the audience. “ … This is a really complex project and it changes every week. And we’re about to go into extreme debt to pay for it.”
Narvaez, however, declared sticking with Napa’s current offices will become more onerous in the long run as facilities age, deteriorate and demand more upkeep.
“If we don’t build it, the renovation cost is $77 million from a fund we haven’t created revenues for,” he said. “At some point, we need to build a new city hall.”
Teresa Windish is living life just like the kangaroo logo plastered to the side of her RV: “bounding” from one place to another with a smile on her face, unsure of where she’ll end up.
Inside her RV, Windish has all the things any other 54-year-old woman might. Inspirational quotes, family photos, teacups hanging on hooks above her small sink.
The Register has been following Windish’s story since last fall when she was first threatened with eviction from the $200 a month room she was renting in American Canyon. In December, after months worrying she would be left on the streets, Windish was gifted an RV. The next problem was that she didn’t have anywhere to park it.
She’s been living in that RV for a few months now, driving it from parking lot to parking lot while she tries to find either a permanent place to park it or a permanent apartment to move into. She eats off fast food dollar menus and charges her phone in outlets inside the restaurants. She knows exactly where to go: Taco Bell, Carl’s Jr., Starbucks.
She’s adjusted to this nomadic life. She makes do, but things still catch her off guard, like when a man approached her Easter Sunday, making “nasty” remarks and banging on her door.
“It’s scary,” Windish said. “I never thought anybody would bother me like that,” especially in broad daylight.
Windish locked the door and yelled out the window “Get out of here!” Then she went out and bought some pepper spray, just in case.
“There’s times I lay and cry, but that doesn’t do any good,” Windish said. Instead, she tries to maintain a positive attitude.
“It looked dark before I got this RV,” she said. “It always looks dark before it gets better, so I’m just gonna keep going and keep praying. It’ll get better. It has to.”
“We’re lucky that we got this RV for her,” Yvonne Baginski, founder of Share the Care, said. “It was a total chance thing.”
Share the Care works to help older adults like Windish with whatever they need including help grocery shopping, cleaning and, in some cases, finding housing. But Baginski says that RVs aren’t the answer because there isn’t any place to put them.
For a few weeks, Windish was given permission by The Gasser Foundation to park at their property on Valle Verde Drive while it awaits redevelopment, but that agreement ended when neighbors started to complain. Another woman in an RV was also parked at the property.
Windish says that it could be worse – at least she has a roof over her head. Other people don’t even have that.
She appreciates all the help she’s gotten so far, especially from organizations like Share the Care and Aegis. But there’s not much more those agencies can do to help her.
“I can’t expect them to keep on, keep on, keep on, I know that. They’ve done a lot,” Windish said recently.
“I don’t know what we’re going to do about Teresa,” Baginski admitted Friday.
Windish hopes that things will change when she turns 55 on May 16. Then she’ll be eligible to apply for senior housing at places like Rohlffs Manor.
Rohlffs Manor has a waiting list, which Windish can’t get on until she’s qualified. After that, it could take six months to a year to get into a unit.
She’s open to other options, though, including finding a plot of land to rent or even finding an apartment outside of Napa. Windish has been working on finding someplace to go, but keeps hitting dead ends. For instance, she drove all the way to Vacaville in her RV after someone offered her a parking space for $350 a month. When she arrived, though, she found out that it was actually $350 a week – far more than what she can afford with her fixed income of $945 a month.
After parking and reparking a few times at store parking lots in Vacaville, Windish had to come back to Napa – she needed to go to appointments and, she says, this is where her life is.
Windish’s 1990 Fleetwood Bounder RV was parked at Walmart in Napa on Thursday along with another RV and about a dozen cars she suspects other people are living in.
“We’re not bothering anybody,” she said. There are plenty of other parking spots on the other side of the lot for employees and customers. “We go and we come back in a different spot. It’s all we can do.”
There are a lot of reasons Windish wants to get a permanent place. She has health problems, including sleep apnea. She is supposed to be using a BiPAP machine at night, but isn’t hooked up to electricity. She’s also concerned about her pets.
“It’s getting warmed and I don’t want to leave the animals in the RV … so I have to bring them with me.”
When it’s warm inside the RV, Windish puts her small dogs in a stroller and takes them out with her. She refuses to leave them home.
“I can’t have ‘em in there,” she said. If her situation doesn’t change as the weather does, Windish will have to find new homes for her animals.
“All I need is a place to plug in my extension cord, to plug in my phone – that’s all I want,” Windish said. She doesn’t cook often and she has an In-Shape membership, so she can take showers there. “I don’t even use hardly any water,” she said. “I’m not asking to do it for nothing.”
SACRAMENTO – Three wineries and one farming company that went green in recent years went last week to the state Capitol, where lawmakers praised their examples of sustainability for the California wine industry.
In a joint hearing Wednesday of the state Senate and Assembly Select Committees on Wine, the four companies, including two from Napa, were lauded with this year’s Sustainable Winegrowing Leadership Awards for their work.
Doling out the awards before the committees, Allison Jordan, executive director of the California Sustainable Winegrowing Alliance, praised the companies and the state’s wine industry in general. “The dedication of our industry is truly remarkable,” Jordan said, “especially when you consider we’re the fourth-largest wine growing region in the world (in production).”
Accepting the Leader Award for Bogle Vineyards, winery vice president Ryan Bogle offered, “We always believed we were a green company.” But spurred by market data and suggestions from others in the industry, his family’s company decided a decade ago “to dig in and actually look at our sustainability efforts,” he said.
“One of our proudest achievements has taken place in the vineyards,” Bogle said, where the company has worked with the Lodi Winegrape Commission to implement the LODI RULES for Sustainable Winegrowing, which are some of the most rigorous standards in the state. Today, more than 1,700 acres of the Bogle estate in Clarksburg in Yolo County are certified, he added.
The company also worked with its outside growers, offering a bonus of $25 per ton for grapes grown in vineyards that have also been certified, Bogle said. Since 2010, the company has paid out $2.8 million in such bonuses. “There’s costs associated with becoming certified under these programs,” he admitted. “So that’s not a burden that we wanted to put on our growers by themselves. We know what it costs for us to certify a ton of grapes and so we added that in and it’s just a cost of doing business.”
Chanel-owned St. Supéry Estate Vineyards & Winery in Rutherford took the Environment Award as the winery best showcasing the environmental plusses of going green.
Accepting the award, winemaker Brooke Shenk said, “From the very beginning,” the Rutherford winery has farmed with sustainability in mind, “simply because it’s the right thing to do.”
In the past three years the winery has reduced its water usage by 50 percent, rerouting more than a million gallons of captured rainwater and reusable winery water back into irrigation ponds each year. Its solar panels have saved 923 tons of carbon dioxide, covering 80 percent of its electric bill.
Today, the winery is working to expand its solar generation, Shenk said. This year St. Supéry also introduced 1,800 sheep to its Dollarhide Estate Vineyard to cut back on its mowing.
The winery is a prominent champion for the Napa Green program, which offers participating Napa wineries and vineyards recognition for using sustainable practices. The local industry’s trade association, Napa Valley Vintners, also backs the program, with sights set on having all of its 500-plus member wineries enrolled by 2020. The group reported last year that more than half its members have so far enrolled.
Madelyn Ripken Kolber, director of sustainability and compliance at KG Vineyard Management, which won the Community Award, said that among the company’s efforts it had revamped its safety training matrix, translating everything into Urdu, the primary language used between KG’s foremen and crews.
The Lodi-based company helps growers work toward the same certification Bogle stresses. “We enjoy selling certified fruit to like-minded buyers,” Kolber said. “Economic viability is crucial in supporting our sustainable future.”
Cakebread Cellars in Rutherford went home with the Business Award, accepted by Cynthia Sharp, the winery’s office and green team manager. The award, “confirms we are making a difference in our vineyard and winery,” Sharp said, “and most importantly, helping us preserve the land for generations to come.”
In the past two years, the winery has diverted 92 percent of its waste and added the Napa Green logo to the back labels of its latest wines. Sharp pointed out that the Napa Green program calls for recertification every three years and for participants to bring about green change beyond their own footprints.
For the latter, Cakebread and St. Supéry sought last year to partner with neighbor Opus One on a shuttle for employees coming from Napa. But after a two-week trial period the shuttle was called off due to lack of employee participation.
Closing out the hearing, Jordan offered an optimistic progress report for the industry, noting that today more than 75 percent of California wine is made in certified sustainable wineries, while a third of wine grape acreage is certified under one or another sustainability programs.
“It gets me kind of a knot in my throat,” Assemblymember Cecilia Aguiar-Curry, D-Winters, chair of the Assembly Select Committee on Wine, said to the winners. “Because I’m thinking, my father, who farmed walnuts, would have never thought of all these great things that you are all doing. So I take my hat off to you.”
State Sen. Mike McGuire, D-Healdsburg, who co-chairs the Senate select committee with state Sen. Bill Dodd, D-Napa, concluded, “It is not easy to farm in California. You have been able to show how to lead the way.”
CALISTOGA — An emergency warning siren tested Tuesday, six months and two days after the Tubbs Fire erupted, may one day be the difference in saving lives if Calistoga goes ahead with the purchase of a system that could warn residents of danger and give them a little more time to escape.
The town once had a siren, but people got tired of the noise, didn’t think the community needed it, and wanted it removed, said Calistoga Fire Chief Steve Campbell. Now those annoying sirens are being re-evaluated as an effective warning system that should never have been removed.
Some who attended a recent community forum said they wished there had been a siren blaring the night of the Tubbs Fire. One man said he used his car horn as he was fleeing and was told by neighbors later that his honking was what got them to take notice and leave.
Scores of communities are scrambling to get sirens in place again, said people involved with Tuesday’s test, conducted in the parking lot adjacent to the Tedeschi Little League Field.
“We’re getting calls from Southern California, Ventura County, Kelseyville,” and all over the state of California from those interested in testing or purchasing sirens, said Duncan Scott, western region sales manager for Federal Signal.
The rush to get sirens in place started last year, Scott said, after the flurry of fires in Wine Country, followed closely by a similar pattern of fires in Southern California.
Should Calistoga purchase sirens, the company that conducted sound tests recommended installing two, Campbell said, making it possible to reach residents beyond the city’s limits. There was no fire damage done to any structure or property within Calistoga’s city limits, but there was significant damage to areas within the shared 94515 zip code.
One siren would be placed near the outside of a mobile home park near Dunaweal Lane and the other would be placed in the vicinity of Greenwood Avenue and Grant Street. The sound study showed that the one near Dunaweal would reach from the southeastern edges of the city out to Calistoga High School, and the Greenwood Avenue siren would reach from the high school and circle outward from there into the northern reaches.
The sirens would be mounted on 50-foot poles and rotate 360 degrees. It takes a full minute for the siren to circle around, blasting the entire time. The siren Calistoga tested Tuesday has three distinct sounds that could be designated to indicate the type of emergency, Campbell said. They could be assigned to a particular event, such as fire, earthquake or a monthly test, he said.
Napa County Sheriff John Robertson said at the March 21 community meeting that the sheriff’s department is upgrading its siren system in patrol cars and will hopefully coordinate the distinct sounds with Cal Fire and the county’s various fire departments, so that there is consistency across the region.
Just relying on technology isn’t going to work, emergency officials have said, because on the night of the fires some cell phone towers went down, making smartphones – and Nixle services – unavailable. Because the power was out in some areas, traditional home phones didn’t work either. There now needs to be overlapping notifications, Campbell said, that would incorporate new and old technology.
The sirens – at a cost of $25,000 each – come with three boxes each, one that contains the “brains” of the system, which also has an alert system to let the fire department know if anyone is tampering with it, and two boxes with a back-up battery system.
Campbell said he’s prepared for another high-risk fire season, pointing out that there was a quarter-acre grass fire just Monday in an area covered in green grass not far from the Little League Field.
He said he didn’t know if, or when, the siren system would be put in place because he is waiting for direction from the mayor and city manager on whether or not to purchase them.