Napa County supervisors are enthusiastically dreaming of a possible, county-led Lake Berryessa recreation renaissance while also trying to keep their eyes open to potential obstacles.
“What an opportunity this is for us to envision what Lake Berryessa can be,” Supervisor Ryan Gregory said at Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting.
At the same time, he and other supervisors mentioned the challenges concessionaires could face building water lines, sewage services and other infrastructure. The Board has yet to make any county management commitments.
Supervisors are sorting through the various ideas for Lake Berryessa resorts – marinas, campsites, hiking trails, restaurants, motels, grocery stores, a conference center, a golf course, an amphitheater, even an indoor water park – to figure out what fits and what’s possible.
“It’s always easier to say ‘yes’ to something later on than to suddenly see you’re over your head and have to pull back,” Supervisor Brad Wagenknecht said.
The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation for almost a decade has unsuccessfully tried to redevelop five of the seven resorts on the federally owned shoreline. In 2016, the Bureau raised the possibility that the county might find and manage resort concessionaires.
Napa County hired Ragatz Realty for $70,000 to look at the resort potential. Supervisors heard an upbeat presentation Tuesday from Richard Ragatz and Grant Sedgwick of the firm that specializes on the resort real estate industry.
Ragatz and Sedgwick recommended that the county, if it decides to manage resort redevelopment, focus on two or three resorts initially. They suggested Steele Canyon and Monticello Shores.
Steele Canyon could be the “action” resort, with a full-service marina, cruise boat and major attractions such as a nine-hole golf course, amphitheater and indoor water park. Monticello Shores could be the “quiet” resort emphasizing nature and non-motorized boats.
“The first ones have to be successful, because it’s critical that success is evident from the outset,” said Ragatz, who grew up in Napa and attended Napa High School.
Sedgwick listed possible draws that could make Lake Berryessa a year-round attraction, such as bird-watching. More than 19 million people identify themselves as bird watchers and Berryessa has 150 types of birds, he said.
“Nature has provided the entertainment,” Sedgwick said.
He noted with a smile that one of his human-created entertainment suggestions has raised eyebrows – an indoor water park resort. Such a park along the lake would have chutes, pools and slides on a colossal scale.
Gregory and Supervisor Diane Dillon expressed doubt about an indoor water park, though Dillon praised thinking “out of the box.”
The public had its say. Evan Kilkus came to the microphone wearing shorts and a flower-print shirt, a fashion choice he called the Lake Berryessa uniform. He sees Berryessa recreation as complementing wine country.
“We want to add the casualness, fun and excitement,” he said.
Bill Ryan of St. Helena said that bass fishing is popular and Lake Berryessa is a great bass lake. Lake Berryessa could attract anglers who already go to Clear Lake and the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, but they’ll need places to eat and sleep, he said.
“Let’s not let them off the hook,” he said.
Amber Payne takes friends boating on Lake Berryessa. They find something missing.
“The lack of amenities is shocking to them,” she said.
Former Napa County Supervisor Harold Moskowite said he had a ranch in Berryessa Valley before the Bureau of Reclamation built Monticello Dam in the late 1950s, flooding the valley and creating the lake. His father had the first contract with the county to create Steele Park resort, now called Steele Canyon.
“I know Berryessa probably as best as anybody … Anything I can do to help, I’ll be happy to do it,” Moskowite told supervisors.
Berryessa Highlands resident Carol Kunze said the Napa County general plan and codes can guide Berryessa resort redevelopment. The lake is about nature-based recreation plus motor boating, she said.
“If I could sum this up under one name, it’s ‘rural recreation,’” Kunze said.
Among the remaining issues is how long the lease contracts can be that the county could offer to concessionaires. The Bureau of Reclamation in a recent, unsuccessful attempt to redevelop the five resorts offered 30-year stints, with infrastructure then reverting to the federal government.
“I’m sorry, you’re not putting $20 million into something to find out you can’t even own it,” Lake Berryessa resident Craig Morton told supervisors. “It’s not going to happen.”
Ragatz Realty recommended that concessionaires should ideally have 65 years to recoup investments.
County and Bureau of Reclamation officials have been discussing the issue. A county report said the Bureau is open to a 55-year lease with at least one 10-year extension.
The Board has already authorized paying Ragatz Realty an additional $65,000 to identify interested concessionaires. Deputy County Executive Officer Molly Rattigan said a report could go to the Board in late fall or winter.
Then, should the Board decide to proceed, the county will complete negotiations with the Bureau of Reclamation for a managing partner agreement.