The Napa City Council unanimously approved the Downtown Napa Specific Plan and supporting documents Tuesday evening after a public hearing that largely focused on one recommendation contained in the document and one left out.
Two-way streets and the types of businesses that will line them were the highlights of the discussion surrounding a document that has been in the works for three years and will soon be implemented.
Several speakers asked the council to reconsider the plan’s recommendation to revert First through Fourth streets between Main and Jefferson streets to their original design. They said having two directions of traffic on those roads, particularly First Street, would be hazardous to pedestrians and cyclists, and chaotic to motorists.
“Ninety-nine percent of the plan, I love,” said Francie Winnen, one of the 15 people on the plan’s steering committee. “It seems to me that First and Second streets just need to be reversed. ... We moved here 30 years ago and it has been backwards the whole time. ... To make it two-way just seems complicated. I don’t see how we’re going to incorporate bicycles, pedestrians, left turns on our little first street. It worries me.”
City staff said the lanes would be separated by a dotted yellow line so motorists can pass when safe if a truck or other vehicle is stopped temporarily. The lanes will also be painted to alert motorists that cyclists share the road.
Councilman Mark van Gorder said he does not believe striping the road for cyclists is enough, and said crosswalks need to be specially marked to help protect pedestrians.
“I like the two-way, I think long-term for pedestrian safety we’ve got to have lighted cross walks at key points along the way,” he said. “That will help people feel safe. ...I think it will work but it’s going to take more.”
Eventually, van Gorder said it might be necessary to direct vehicles to park in structures and lots so on-street parking can be restriped into bike lanes.
Proponents of the multi-direction streets said they will naturally slow traffic, make it easier for visitors to navigate the area and increase traffic to downtown shops.
“Yes, there will be some challenges in doing it and the implementation but I’m excited and I think it’s the right step for us to take at this point,” Mayor Jill Techel said.
The plan covers the area bound by the Napa River on the east, Division and Third streets on the south, Jefferson Street on the west, and the residential neighborhoods along Polk and Caymus streets to the north. Though some mentioned they would like to see the streets opened to two-way traffic between Jefferson Street and California Boulevard, that area is outside the plan so no recommendation for that area was presented at this time.
Others turned out to the hearing to urge the council to consider adding something to the document: Regulations for chain stores. Members and supporters of Napa Local — a grassroots group that formed in December after it was said Starbucks was interested in a downtown location across the street from Napa Valley Coffee Roasting Company — asked the council to amend the document so as to favor locally-owned businesses over chain stores and make it more difficult for chains to open shop downtown.
“As a downtown resident, I personally don’t want to live in a downtown that looks like every other downtown and is overrun by corporate chain businesses,” said Erica Martensen, who is also an organizer for the local Green Party. “I want to live in a downtown that has character. ... We’re not talking about a ban, we’re talking about regulation, which is planning, which is what we should be doing.”
As it had in the past, the council said it did not want to limit business now. Staff said design guidelines contained in the plan may be enough to prevent “cookie-cutter style” businesses from establishing in downtown.
At the request of representatives and tenants from two downtown buildings, including the Community Projects building on Second Street, the council said it would support a zoning change to expand the allowable uses for those buildings.