land use

Napa Pipe goes to city voters, but what will the vote mean?

2014-07-26T16:00:00Z 2014-11-21T11:26:19Z Napa Pipe goes to city voters, but what will the vote mean?JANELLE WETZSTEIN Napa Valley Register

On Nov. 4, voters in the city of Napa will face a complex “yes or no” vote on the multi-faceted Napa Pipe project

With the City Council finalizing a ballot measure last week that will ask voters to move the city’s development boundary to include Napa Pipe, local officials say the real work of educating the public has begun.

“There is a lack of clarity about what the rural urban limit (RUL) line, the sphere of influence and the city limits truly are,” said Councilwoman Juliana Inman. “These are government terms that we are going to have to explain. We have these — in some cases — arcane lines on a map and most people aren’t aware of what they are and what they really mean.”

Indeed, as the city has embarked on the long road of trying to annex the proposed 154-acre Napa Pipe development site into city limits, the planning jargon has confused some members of the public. Eve Kahn, local real estate agent and chairwoman of the Napa group Get a Grip on Growth, said that many people are wondering what they will voting on come November.

“There isn’t really anyone – outside (the City Council and city staff) – who understands the difference between moving the RUL and annexation,” she said. “Some of the issues that have come up are things like, will this expansion set a precedent? I’ve had people call me and ask if this is going to happen on Salvador (Avenue), on Big Ranch (Road), or on Dry Creek (Road). There’s a layer of confusion.”

While the planning issues may seem complex, the elements of the Napa Pipe development seem clear enough to some: Up to 945 new residences, a Costco, a 150-room hotel, a 150-unit senior living facility and other retail, commercial and office space. The project is expected to be built in stages over many years.

When it comes to city planning, there are several overarching documents that guide Napa’s long-term goals. The Napa General Plan, in particular, governs city limits and future development sites. Napa’s current general plan lasts through 2020 and was last updated in 2011.

In the massive document, which typically takes years to compile, the city outlines its goals for development, including areas of the county that are eventually planned to become a part of city limits. Properties within city limits are subject to city laws and usually receive city services like utilities, police and fire support and infrastructure upkeep.

But because the city’s official limits were drawn somewhat arbitrarily, often related to water easements and utility provisions, there are parcels of land that are county-governed but completely surrounded by city land. Since these islands can lead to a disruption of service and emergency response, it is the city’s and county’s goal to annex such land into city limits. The Napa Pipe site, which sits on the eastern banks of the Napa River, along Kaiser Road, and is surrounded by the city on three sides, is considered essentially such an “island.”

Along with city limits, the general plan also addresses the boundary known as the Rural Urban Limit line. This invisible boundary encompasses all the land that is envisioned for urban development through the current general plan of 2020. Boundaries such as these are typically enacted to limit urban sprawl and protect scenic corridors surrounding the city.

There is another invisible boundary that city officials must contend with, known as the Sphere of Influence. Monitored by the Local Agency Formation Commission of Napa County, or LAFCO, the sphere of influence refers to the likely physical boundary and service area of cities.

For the city of Napa, the sphere of influence determines which properties the city will extend services to, such as water and emergency response. The City Council can vote to extend its sphere of influence to properties that are not in the RUL or in city limits, though typically only does so for needed safety upgrades — such as fire protection for development already approved by the county.

The three boundaries, though intertwined, can operate independent of one another. A property can be within city limits but not in the RUL, or within the sphere of influence and not in city limits. With so many options, it’s no surprise that people are confused, officials said.

“There’s clearly a lot of groundwork that needs to be done to educate the community,” said Kahn. “We still have a lot of questions about this.”

What the city will be asking voters to approve in November is a first step in the process to annex the Napa Pipe project into city limits. The measure will not actually be asking voters to annex the property. That decision will ultimately be made by LAFCO, after further applications, studies and public hearings. But LAFCO can’t even address annexing the property until the voters have weighed in on the extension of the RUL.

Napa’s Community Development Director Rick Tooker said that public information fully explaining the vote will be provided in the November voter informational pamphlet. He said that while some people may not fully understand the language of the measure itself, the supplement arguments and additional materials should address any questions that may come up.

“The city has already provided information to the voters through the various staff reports prepared to date,” he said. “All of this information together will help to inform voters of the ballot question so they may reach an independent decision ...”

Tooker added that the city will post all the information related to the vote on its website, with links to all of the documents, in the coming weeks.

If voters reject the RUL expansion request, the property cannot be annexed into city limits by LAFCO. However, that will not necessarily stop the Napa Pipe project from moving forward.

Even if voters reject the RUL expansion, the city has signed an agreement with the county to provide city services to the site — as long as the county finishes a series of requests that city officials wrote into the agreement. If the county adheres to the city’s requirements outlined in the agreement, the city can essentially move Napa Pipe into its sphere of influence, regardless of the November election’s outcome.

For the county, Napa Pipe is seen as a way to meet its state housing requirements. Every eight years, the state sets requirements for the number of multi-family housing units that local towns must build, to keep pace with local job growth.

The Napa Pipe project will satisfy the county’s housing requirements through 2022, a feat that has been difficult to accomplish because of Napa County’s agricultural preserve ordinance that requires most new development to occur in urban areas.

Whether this RUL vote will set a precedent remains to be seen. Typically, the county builds housing within cities to help offset its housing requirements. Doing so is considered preferable to building residences in unincorporated areas, where emergency response times are longer and public services are scarce.

But the amount of county-built housing in urban areas in past years has fallen short of what the state requires. Because the county has an agricultural preserve that makes many areas off limits to development, the county could attempt this in other areas — though no discussion has taken place on the matter.

While Kahn said her group is supporting the RUL expansion and eventually annexing the Napa Pipe property into city limits, she said it does not mean Get a Grip on Growth supports the project itself.

“Our support comes with the (caveat) that we support the project being in the city, but we have issues with the project itself,” she said.

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(17) Comments

  1. Rustydog
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    Rustydog - July 26, 2014 6:53 pm
    Napa Pipe just say NO.

    Who is approving the design review of recent projects?
    Who is considering the traffic problems we already have?
    I love Costco, but not enough to sell my soul.
  2. tazzmaster24
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    tazzmaster24 - July 26, 2014 7:13 pm
    I will not vote for this mess. We do not need this here. The city can't take care of what they have already and there is way to much traffic in this town.
  3. Stephen R Gianelli
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    Stephen R Gianelli - July 27, 2014 12:52 am
    "But because the city’s official limits were drawn somewhat arbitrarily, often related to water easements and utility provisions, there are parcels of land that are county-governed but completely surrounded by city land. Since these islands can lead to a disruption of service and emergency response, it is the city’s and county’s goal to annex such land into city limits. The Napa Pipe site, which sits on the eastern banks of the Napa River, along Kaiser Road, and is surrounded by the city on three sides, is considered essentially such an “island.”

    This seems reasonably clear to me, as does the notion that everything within the City boundaries should have access to City services.

    As for the first two comments, these considerations do not depend on a specific (or any) proposed project in the area proposed for annexation.

    The wisdom of the proposed Napa Pipe development project is an entirely separate issue.
  4. Crosscountrykid
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    Crosscountrykid - July 27, 2014 6:05 am
    Janelle, thanks for explaining the differences between city limits, RUL's, and 'spheres of influence'. Your reporting clarified some long standing questions I had. Good journalism.

    Those who market this ballot measure to the public have a two-fold challenge ahead of them. The first challenge is that many voters will think they are voting for a simple yes/no on Napa Pipe, despite all the publicity for so many years. At this late date I don't think this hurdle can be overcome.

    The second challenge has to do with the technical nature of the ballot issue itself. My suggestion is to keep educational materials as simple as legally possible and appeal to the enlightened self-interest of the voter. Why is a 'yes' vote good for the individual voter, as opposed to the impersonal interests of city governance? If the voter info guide is mostly technical jargon about RUL's and such, eyes will glaze over, and people will be inclined to vote 'no' for what they don't understand.
    Eric Vaughan
  5. Wineandfood
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    Wineandfood - July 27, 2014 7:35 am
    Breaking news Eve - us lowly citizens are not as stupid as you think and therefore you are not as smart as you think. I fully understand it and will be voting yes.
  6. naparealestate
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    naparealestate - July 27, 2014 7:44 am
    I always hate when the condominiums at Napa Pipe are referred to as "residences". Why can't we just call them what they are - high density condominiums.
  7. bowlerhat
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    bowlerhat - July 27, 2014 9:54 am
    With the County Commissioners in serious discussions on how many MORE wineries this valley can withstand wih our traffic jams getting worse every year, there comes a tipping point when the quality of the our lives becomes involved in the law of diminishing returns.

    Our visitors are more likely to visit the roads less traveled over in Sonoma.

    The other issue which IS affecting all of us locally and in the World is climate change and in particular water resources. Water might be the overarching issue that prevents Napa Pipe from coming to fruition.

    However, the almighty dollar for the very few that make a boatload from this project, might enable this project to go through.

    In closing, I'm very pro business but not at the expense of our dwindling water supplies and our current gridlock and God awful roads that ARE affecting the quality of our lives.
  8. Cadence
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    Cadence - July 27, 2014 12:12 pm
    You're forgetting the 300 apartments.
    Call it high density housing; that's a more accurate, albeit more Soviet-like, description.
  9. Trucker
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    Trucker - July 27, 2014 1:17 pm
    Wow, must be so hard to be as smart and arrogant as you seem to portray yourself. Your grasp of the finance, redevelopment, politics, zoning, engineering, environmental impact studies, population trends, water rights and public safety must keep you up pondering at night how the rest of the community could be so dumb.
  10. napablogger
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    napablogger - July 27, 2014 8:35 pm
    You are all wrong. This will be an up down vote on the Costco, and it will pass easily. The rest of this will put most voters to sleep.
  11. vocal-de-local
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    vocal-de-local - July 27, 2014 8:49 pm
    If Napa Pipe is surrounded on three sides by City boundaries, it is not an island. Please someone, show me a map of these City boundaries that surround Napa Pipe.

    The property of Napa Pipe in its industrial state does not require a great deal of emergency service response.

    I'm fairly certain that the City and County can agree on some sort of deal to respond to any future industrial emergency responses which are probably far and few between.

    Keep this land industrial zoned and don't by into the lie that Napa Pipe is a County island in need of services.

    In fact, take a look at flood zone maps for this area and you will see that Napa Pipe not only is NOT a land island at all but has the potential to be inundated by rising flood waters.

  12. bowlerhat
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    bowlerhat - July 27, 2014 10:44 pm
    napablogger, I believe you have n'utshelled' the issue. Costco is the prize ... at what expense, well maybe most do not care ...
  13. Crosscountrykid
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    Crosscountrykid - July 28, 2014 5:44 am
    Michael, you may well be right, at least about the sleepy aspect. But I've yet to see anything in the NVR about Costco itself making a commitment to build in Napa, just words saying it will. And as you state, Costco, from the regular citizen's concern, is THE issue. Yet with two Costco's so close by, I wonder if their business model supports a store in Napa. Is Costco itself committed to Napa at some time in the future, or is this just a pipe dream? (sorry) Seriously, can the developers or anyone provide some info from Costco's perspective? No sarcasm meant, just think it's critical to publically confirm this crucial piece of the project.
    Eric Vaughan
  14. 5th Generation Napan
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    5th Generation Napan - July 28, 2014 7:55 am
    Put Cosco at the Gateway Business Park right now at the airport. No waiting, easy access, lots of zoned build able land, and only 3 to 5 min further drive depending on the light.
  15. Stephen R Gianelli
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    Stephen R Gianelli - July 28, 2014 11:36 am
    If you're serious you can option the proposed site, hire architects and engineers to develop preliminary project plans, pay out of pocket for a market study to determine the feasibility of the project, negotiate a letter of intent with Cosco as a tenant, commence the permit process and solicit investors, then pay out of pocket for attorneys fees and an EIR and then await the onslaught of obstructionists who would like nothing better than to kill any project because it has the name "Cosco" associated with it or because it will "encourage population growth". Years later you may have a new building with Cosco as a tenant or you may have nothing but a lot of development costs down the drain. Talk is cheap, but I admire the vision and drive of the entrepreneurs who prefer to take action and are willing to risk losing their development capital on the uphill battle that is trying to do anything in a place like Napa.
  16. 5th Generation Napan
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    5th Generation Napan - July 28, 2014 12:55 pm
    Guess your right, but seriously there is a place for everything, and Napa Pipe is a waste of time and effort. Cosco is just a carrot, and would be easier and better placed at Gateway or next to Century Theater. Napa Pipe should be kept industrial. But our "developers with vision" don't exist anymore. Your right I don't have the money so guess my opinion does not amount to a hill of beans and anyone with money should be given the right to do anything they want, eh. Does this mean its good for the community? I doubt it. Somehow ideas with a vision, in the proper place don't get as much friction as mediocre ideas.
  17. whoa cowboy
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    whoa cowboy - July 29, 2014 12:40 pm
    Too much housing for available water and too much extra traffic for our little highways! Make it all retail and recreation.
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