Napa Pipe

The battle over Napa Pipe

County must decide between two competing visions
2012-03-18T00:30:00Z 2012-07-04T00:56:11Z The battle over Napa PipePETER JENSEN Napa Valley Register
March 18, 2012 12:30 am  • 

The cars roll into Napa County every weekday morning like a shifting tide, slowly seeping along Highways 12 and 29 by the tens of thousands to their drivers’ jobs in the valley.

As they cross over the Butler Bridge, some glance north to an expanse of concrete nestled along the east banks of the Napa River that’s dotted by a crane. Most eyes will behold no beauty in the site, a remnant of the county’s industrial past where scores of Napans once worked in steel production. But thousands may one day call it home.

It’s Napa Pipe, the 154-acre site that could be home to one of the largest — and most controversial — development projects in county history. Where the Kaiser Steel plant once stood, the site’s developers want to build 2,050 residential units, plus markets, restaurants, parks, offices, a hotel and other commercial space.

On Monday, the Napa County Planning Commission will meet at 6 p.m. at the Little Theater at Napa Valley College to hear public comments on the proposal. Almost certainly, complex, competing visions for the site will unfold.

The developers, Napa Redevelopment Partners, envision creating the kind of dense, walkable, urban neighborhood found in San Francisco or New York — something far different from the single-family tracts that dominate in Napa.

They push the project as an effective means of stemming the tide of traffic on south county highways by providing commuters with housing that’s closer to jobs.

“We’ve created all these jobs,” said Keith Rogal, the public face of Napa Redevelopment Partners. “We’re a magnet for all these people. Are we really going to tell all these young people, ‘We love having you here, we just don’t have the space for you to live here?’”

Slow-growth advocates see a development whose eventual population would be equal to or greater than St. Helena or Calistoga, and would bend long-standing growth-management and land-use policies.

Approving the project would require an exemption to Napa County’s annual cap on the number of residential building permits and would allow the site to use the groundwater beneath it, contrary to the county’s stated preference that groundwater be used for agriculture and for those living in rural areas.

Union locals for electrical workers, plumbers and sheet-metal workers lament the prospective loss of a key site from the county’s industrial past, and advocate leaving it untouched in the hopes that industry will once again take root there.

As part of a pro-industry campaign, supporters will begin planting yard signs urging officials to kill the project, said Eve Kahn, chairwoman of Get a Grip on Growth and an organizer of the movement.

Napa County planning staff is attempting to reach a middle ground by putting 700 to 945 residential units on the western half of the site, while the eastern half would remain reserved for industry.

That proposal has drawn critics who say the residential component would be too small for the site to support the retail and amenities needed to keep cars off the road, and question whether it’s too small for the developers to turn a profit.

In the six years since the project was first proposed, the question remains: Which vision for the property fits best? On Monday, the Planning Commission will begin to try to form its answer.

After the public comment period, which may extend beyond one hearing, the commission will debate whether to approve General Plan and zoning ordinance amendments allowing the project’s construction.

After that, the Board of Supervisors would take up the issue, but no dates have been determined. Board Chairman Keith Caldwell pledged in January that the board would tackle the issue this year.

In lobbying for the project’s approval, Rogal wields demographic statistics, which he believes demonstrate the need for Napa Pipe.

Rogal said the U.S. Census Bureau is projecting that by 2020 the number of young adults in their 20s and elderly adults in their 70s in Napa County will increase, while the number of middle-aged adults will decrease. That demographic shift, he argues, needs a complementary shift in housing: away from the single-family home tracts, which account for 92 percent of all homes in Napa County, and toward Napa Pipe’s higher-density housing.

Napa Pipe’s units would range in size from studios to three-bedroom units, although almost half would have two bedrooms. They would be assembled in a mix of rowhouses, condominiums and apartments with a density of 33 units per acre; 80 percent would be sold at market value, while 20 percent would remain as affordable housing. The site would also have a 150-unit facility for seniors.

As a way to reduce car trips for residents, the project would offer:

• 40,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space oriented toward the riverfront that would serve the neighborhood;

• 50,000 square feet of office space, transit and shuttle access;

• River access for water taxis and boats;

• 56 acres of open space and public trails.

Rogal said Napa Pipe represents a way for residents to simplify their lives by reducing the size of their homes, possibly losing a car, yet remaining connected to their community and their jobs.

“It’s a huge change, and a really satisfying change,” Rogal said. “That’s really the essence of Greenwich Village and the Italian hilltowns — the great neighborhoods we hear so much about.”

He pictures a resident’s potential day at Napa Pipe like this: A young mother wakes up and enjoys tea on the back patio, looking at a garden. After feeding her baby, she walks to a fitness and spa center to do some yoga, soaking in views of the river to the west and the gently rolling hills to the east.

After that, she puts her child in a stroller and boards a water taxi, which ferries her to work in downtown Napa. She rides the same taxi back to Napa Pipe in the evening, and on the way home she stops to pick up some groceries. At home, she meets her husband, who recently arrived on a bicycle from his work, and they eat dinner.

Girding Rogal’s vision are other statistics that he believes further demonstrate the need for Napa Pipe.

Using Census Bureau data, Victoria Eisen, a consultant for Napa Pipe, estimates that 28,800 commuters drive into the county every weekday morning for jobs, the majority coming from Solano and Sonoma counties. That’s almost half of the county’s total workforce of 61,000 people.

Eisen concluded that within a 15-minute drive of Napa Pipe, the county had a pool of 43,637 workers earning enough annual income to afford to live there.

“These people are already here,” Rogal said. “We’ve had all this economic growth but we’ve had so little housing growth. You look at ‘What do people need?’ The ideal housing type is not a large house on a huge lot.”

The project’s vision of a dense, urban, walkable neighborhood that would prevent sprawl and shorten local commute times led the Greenbelt Alliance to throw its support behind the project, said Marla Wilson, a field representative for the agency.

“We just think it makes a lot of sense,” Wilson said. “It can really be something positive for Napa County.”

Wilson said her organization doesn’t support the planning staff’s proposal of 700 to 945 units and questioned if the reduced size would be able to support the proposed neighborhood retail.

“It’s not really doing anything for anybody sitting there,” Wilson said. “It’s industrial land. ... It will be an area that the county will cherish.”

Numerous individuals and groups are lined up to oppose Napa Pipe. They disdain it for its size and because of how it would affect growth-management policies. The project would draw upon groundwater beneath it for some of its water, and use recycled water and other sources as well.

Sandy Elles, executive director of the Napa County Farm Bureau, said her organization opposes Napa Pipe because of the residential use of groundwater, which contradicts a county policy stating that agriculture and rural areas would be the preferred users of groundwater.

“It is a conservation policy that should not be overridden,” Elles said. “Groundwater has historically been used for agriculture.”

Elles highlights another reason for opposing the size of Napa Pipe — an expectation that state mandates for housing in Napa County would be lower in the future.

The planning staff’s smaller proposal also highlights this. For its current cycle, the county received an allocation of 651 units, but expects that to be smaller, possibly 370 units, for the next cycle, which runs until 2022.

“They’ve finally given us lower numbers,” Elles said. “Now that we’ve achieved that paradigm shift, now we’re saying, ‘Oh, we want to build a large, mixed-use development’?”

Elles said that the project would result in more traffic congestion, not less, and disagrees with the developer being able to exempt the project from the county’s cap on the number of residential building permits that can be issued annually. The planning staff’s proposal would avoid needing that exemption.

“It’s incomprehensible,” Elles said. “Their proposal would actually exceed by 2,000 percent the annual growth rate proposed by (the Association of Bay Area Governments).”

Kahn, of Get a Grip on Growth, said the site is a poor choice for housing, given its presence in the unincorporated area of the county, and its need for police, fire, school and sanitation services that would have to be extended to it.

She said industry is the most logical choice, and the labor union locals representing electricians, sheet-metal workers and plumbers in Napa County agree. The groups prefer the site remain industrial, but acknowledge that a mix of housing and industrial, as the planning staff version proposes, could also work there.

“It seems that the site could very well provide for manufacturing or industrial jobs in the future,” Kevin Coleman, a spokesman for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local 180, said in an email. “We are convinced that the Napa Pipe project is a bad idea.”

Brett Risley and William McIntyre both worked at the site in the 1980s, when it was owned by Kaiser Steel. Risley, who was fresh out of high school and working as a machinist, remembers a site optimal for industry because of its river and rail access, and ample water supply.

Oregon Steel purchased the site and operated it until 2004, when it closed and was sold to the developers.

McIntyre, who worked as a welder, wants that industrial potential to be reached again.

“Look at what you have there,” McIntyre said. “You have access to the ocean. You can produce things here and you can send them to Europe, you can send them to Asia. There has to be some industrial momentum going. Manufacturing just can’t be gone from this country.”

Rogal said that vision would worsen traffic, and doesn’t make sense, given the need for workforce housing.

“It will be built out as something,” Rogal said. “If it’s all industry, that generates much more traffic into the peak traffic hours.”

Rogal said Napa Pipe would act as a valve to relieve development pressures in other, more critical areas of the county, such as the Agricultural Preserve.

“Napans don’t support the conversion of agricultural land,” Rogal said. “We’re suggesting that this takes the pressure off that. The only people who have to be materially affected by this are the ones who opt in. If one doesn’t want to live in a place like this, there’s no problem. We’re not putting this in your neighborhood.”

Copyright 2015 Napa Valley Register. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(30) Comments

  1. napablogger
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    napablogger - March 18, 2012 1:53 am
    You are going to put 5000 new residents in one spot and that is going to take traffic off the road? If you believe that I have a bridge I'd like to sell you.

    And why in the world are we building housing for seniors to move here? If anything we need work force housing.

    Really this is a decision about what Napa wants itself to be. Do we want to stay a farming community with a relatively low population, or are we going to grow quickly into a larger city with less room for farming and agriculture? If the Napa Pipe plan passes it will be a big step toward becoming a large city like Santa Rosa.

    And by the way, if it is true that almost 29,000 people are driving in, having 300 of them move to Napa Pipe is not going to make any difference, and is certainly not worth the traffic bomb that is going to be released around Imola.
  2. napa boy
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    napa boy - March 18, 2012 4:37 am
    We already have this style of dense housing at the end of south jefferson called Shelvelle Ranch and they couldnt give those houses away !
  3. Napa
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    Napa - March 18, 2012 5:40 am
    I agree fully 100% with Napablogger. Rogal's idea for Napa pipe is not a good one and would indeed only increase traffic and make Napa look like larger cities like Santa Rosa.

    Rogal will fight this idea tooth and nail and his people to imput Napa Pipe Nothing more has to be said. Napablogger hit the nail on the head!
  4. gettingreal
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    gettingreal - March 18, 2012 6:05 am
    The idea that Napa Pipe would help with traffic flies in the face of reason. Actually it's laughable. People will move there and commute through American Canyon. Imagine that traffic jam!
  5. NativeQB
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    NativeQB - March 18, 2012 6:13 am
    PLEASE!!! SOunds like Pro-Developer TALK to me..What JOBS have been created or are being created here that demands so much housing?? And WHAT Housing shortage?? MOST all of these WIne & Hotel related JOBS aren't enough for one to Buy & Own a home in NAPA!! UNLSESS of course the Developer is going to make them all LOW INCOME???? NOT!!!! I SECOND the Bridge to Sell" comment..TRAFFIC CREATED will make it unBearable.. SHRINK the SIZE & SCOPE of that project period. Leave alot of it as NATURAL & OPEN SPACE as so MANY PEOPLE want!!SO WHY not here?? DONATE half ot it for that!!
  6. babybirds
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    babybirds - March 18, 2012 7:27 am
    We already have quite afew huge "hotels" of sorts here and I haven't noticed any influx or any type of new jobs opening up that would pay a person a large enough wage to afford to live in this area. Napa is NOT a farming community anymore (hasn't since the late 50's); a bedroom community, yes. There is no affordable shopping, eatting establishments, housing, entertainment,or health care in this town, sad to say. The streets are the worst I think they have ever been since I can remember and the city and county can't fix them now. How are the governing agencies going to take care of another 2550 homes with streets to fix?
  7. Skip_M
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    Skip_M - March 18, 2012 7:51 am
    One way or another, this development will move forward. I cannot recall a time that city and county planners took the wishes of the populace into consideration when making decisions in more than 40 years. Is there any plan to build new schools or fire stations in that area?

    City planners keep hearing: "If you build it, they will come..."

    So, go ahead and build it. I'll be waiting for the anguished stories of people flooded from their homes in about 20 years. Or how about the cancer cluster or increased birth defects that will result from exposure to all the contaminated soil in that area. But go ahead and build it. As long as it benefits city planners and their buddies, its all good.
  8. kbc
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    kbc - March 18, 2012 8:22 am
    What? The Farm Bureau is opposing something?
  9. bowlerhat
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    bowlerhat - March 18, 2012 8:41 am
    One wonders if the slowly rising sea levels are a factor when building on this land?

    As for steel production in the face of cheap Chinese producers ... well, one can imagine the wages that would be paid to compete. Let's see what even minimum wage earners might be able to afford ... they wives going to Yoga classes ... while they smoke their Napa pipes!

    One could see, however, the river being dredged facilitating a ferry service to Napa along with other tourist boats to feed into what Napa is ... a destination.
  10. ruralresident
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    ruralresident - March 18, 2012 9:10 am
    What developer spin this is! A home in Napa Pipe will NOT be less costly than what is already available in Napa. Reading this spin sounds like you want the working poor to believe that they will be able to afford to live in your little utopia. The people aren't stupid. I hope the Planning Commission doesn't think we are either and are not buying this pompous spin themselves. First of all, the thousands of commuters into Napa either can't afford to live here (including Napa Pipe) or they don't want to live here. Those that do want to live here already do. Napa has abundant available housing.
  11. BennyD
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    BennyD - March 18, 2012 9:36 am
    This development makes the most sense given the reality of our vast hospitality and agriculture based economies. It will provide for controlled growth for new workers and families for many years without more suburban sprawl and preserve ag land. It will also provide for a transit hub that will take cars off the roads and encourage a walkable and transit oriented lifestyle, in addition to controlling the daily influx of tourism traffic. This all will give the entire Napa Valley a sustainable path to enhance and capture growing international tourism.
  12. reason-ator
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    reason-ator - March 18, 2012 9:46 am
    Competing visions ?

    Them's the facts !
  13. Joe B
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    Joe B - March 18, 2012 10:24 am
    “That’s really the essence of Greenwich Village and the Italian hilltowns — the great neighborhoods we hear so much about.”

    After that, she puts her child in a stroller and boards a water taxi, which ferries her to work in downtown Napa. She rides the same taxi back to Napa Pipe in the evening, and on the way home she stops to pick up some groceries. At home, she meets her husband, who recently arrived on a bicycle from his work, and they eat dinner.

    Sell it big! This is going to be an Italian Villa? Water taxi to work, while your husband comes home on a bicycle? Really, come on this is laughable! The Napa Pipe Dream, A nightmare that won't go away, brought to you by your city planners.

  14. napagirl76
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    napagirl76 - March 18, 2012 10:34 am
    what family is going to give up a large single family home that they can afford in Solano county for a smaller unit not near shopping, schools or emergency help at Napa pipe?

    and Keith you can not guarantee that these units are going to be sold to the "young work force" for all you know half well be bought as 2nd homes/vacation home.

    I hope every one that has a say in this project votes NO...

    Keith if you want to make your money and "help" Napa then build for those big box stores looking to open in Napa.
  15. msetty
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    msetty - March 18, 2012 10:50 am
    Here is a sample of the Census data that Rogal is talking about, pulled straight out of

    Employed in the Selection Area 61,627 100.0%
    Employed in the Selection Area but Living Outside 28,806 46.7%
    Employed and Living in the Selection Area 32,821 53.3% 

    Living in the Selection Area 58,573 100.0%
    Living in the Selection Area but Employed Outside 25,752 44.0%
    Living and Employed in the Selection Area 32,821 56.0%
  16. mar584
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    mar584 - March 18, 2012 12:21 pm
    I like the way it sounds, BUT, the traffic is already unbearable. The traffic situation is just not acceptable anymore. To many people are coming into the valley. There are too many limos creeping around. No more.
  17. crooked6pence
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    crooked6pence - March 18, 2012 12:40 pm
    There are at least 406 homes for sale in Napa right now and who knows how many vacant rental units. Until these are sold or rented why build more? The people who commute here for work do so because they cannot or will not pay twice as much for a home on average compared to where they live. So unless they will be selling these houses for $200,000 this is a misguided venture under the guise of reducing traffic - if anything, it is going to compound the traffic problem.
  18. napat
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    napat - March 18, 2012 12:53 pm

    After that, she puts her child in a stroller and boards a water taxi, which ferries her to work in downtown Napa. She rides the same taxi back to Napa Pipe in the evening, and on the way home she stops to pick up some groceries.

    Hahahah! This has to be one of the funniest scenarios I've ever read. Work where? WalMart? Target? Take a hike, lady!
    And grocery shop at the one remaining store in Napa, Safeway. Another hike for our working woman whose wages probably aren't enough to even afford this housing.

    This is ridiculous and whoever dreamed this one up should be ashamed. The reality is more traffic than ever to even get out of Napa.
  19. gaslight
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    gaslight - March 18, 2012 2:52 pm
    kbc - It would SEEM the Farm Bureau is opposing Napa Pipe unless you read the article in the paper that the Farm Bureau is supporting Supervisor Mark Luce for re-election. Luce has been Napa Pipe's most enthusiastic, publicly vocal advocate on the Board of Supervisors since day one. If the Farm Bureau strongly opposed Napa Pipe, it wouldn't be supporting the election of a supervisor who has been trying to push through the project for years, would it?
  20. notpc
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    notpc - March 18, 2012 3:39 pm
    This is a county development project in the middle of the city of Napa. Negative impacts on the taxpayers of the City of Napa: increased traffic and deterioration of roads, fire protection(closest resources are city of Napa). The planning decisions are a design for disaster. first there was to be 2580 housing units in seven story buildings.This was to insure a feasible self contained village with retail to minimize traffic. We all know this was a traffic nightmare with these many units. Now the county wants 700-900 housing units. Will that make the village concept economically feasible? Or are up to 2700 people going to have to make car trips to shop? Who is going to pay for the so called water taxi? This is fantasyland folks. And guess who gets to pay for this fantasyland- us the taxpayer. This is urban sprawl the kind of planning that San Jose, Antioch and Fairfield let happen. They make our traffic issues look great and they had room for larger roads.
  21. NapaRights
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    NapaRights - March 18, 2012 8:03 pm
    I find it ironic that Sandy Elles and the Farm Bureau – who “opposes Napa Pipe” – just recently endorsed Mark Luce for County Supervisor who has said in previous years that Napa Pipe is like “God’s gift to our frustration.” Seems contradictory to me. I would like the Farm Bureau and Sandy to elaborate so we can better understand how their endorsement decisions are made.
  22. Straight Talk
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    Straight Talk - March 18, 2012 8:25 pm
    For the record - Some writers here have claimed this is a "city project." It's not. The County planning commission and County Board of Supervisors will decide if this project or some form of it will pass or fail. County Planning department and staff have been working on this project for years. It is NOT a city project.
  23. napan79
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    napan79 - March 18, 2012 10:11 pm
    This whole Napa Pipe Project sickens me to death. We hardly have any open land in Napa, and you are going to build homes on the only open space we have. Come on we the local's don't want the Napa Pipe Project, you are going to ruin the small Napa. Napa is growing too fast as it is, and it needs to slow down. Let the Napa Pipe be open to local farming, not grapes but producing produce and other food supplies. Please Napa City Council let the people decide and let's the people vote if they want Napa Pipe or not. Where is the water coming from? What about the already traffic problems that Napa is facing? Listen to the local people, and don't let money be the deal breaker. Also Napa population is older and there will be homes for the younger generations, we are not going to have to tell them that their are no homes available for them. That is a crazy logic to even consider. This whole project makes me want to move out of Napa, and I have so much love for Napa.
  24. reason-ator
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    reason-ator - March 19, 2012 1:15 am
    I can see how everyone will have their own personal high-speed rail shuttle to augment their solar-powered gondolas. Just envisioning solar power alone will help cure World Hunger.

    This may very well be the most ambitious opportunity to stick it in a Pipe Dream and smoke it. The po$$ibilitie$ are $o hard to re$is$t.

    But one thing is FOR SURE ! There are salesmen involved here who will tell anybody ANYTHING if it increase the profit margins. Past History ALONE should be enough to show that we should be wary of anything that flows upstream from the SaNapanitation Pipe slough, let alone what oozes out of the ground.
  25. vocal-de-local
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    vocal-de-local - March 19, 2012 1:51 am
    Here's the reality to the delusional Napa Pipe dream: Water taxis may indeed be useable. They can retrieve the belongings out of flooded first floor units. Ten feet above sea level units will probably fall victim to rising flood waters or rising sea levels and taxpayers will be asked to fund flood gates and canals. Indeed, it might slightly resemble an Italian Village called Venice in that they both require dredging. The only character that Napa Pipe will have is when middle aged Napa Pipe vacationers (the ones who can afford to purchase the units as second homes) take their water taxi home after a long day of wine tasting and walk through muck in their 'dress up' attire to reach their front doors because the water taxi got stuck in receding tide mud!
  26. Napanative1969
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    Napanative1969 - March 19, 2012 7:47 am
    This is a poorly planned project that we don't need in Napa. The fairy tale that Mr. Rogal described will turn into a nightmare for the rest of us if it's built out. If we are going to build more housing at some point, it shouldn't be on top of a former industrial site that's full of contamination and without a viable water source.
  27. keenplanner
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    keenplanner - March 21, 2012 4:25 pm
    I like the project. Napa will grow, with most of the growth happening in the City of Napa and south. Napa Pipe seems too far from downtown Napa, but it's probably only 15 minutes by bicycle.
    Kieth Rogal is right: if it gets built, there needs to be enough build-out to support small, local businesses, at least a grocery store. 800 units won't cut it, and would cause more congestion than 2000, because EVERY errand would be cause for a drive.
    Napa Pipe needs to agressively promote sustainable transportation, whether it be by building bike lanes, reducing parking, housing car share vehicles, giving residents transit passes, or running a shuttle to the transit center. All of the above.
  28. retiredrancher
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    retiredrancher - March 21, 2012 4:39 pm
    Where's the potable water coming from, Keith (Rogal or Caldwell can answer). Seriously, this is the wrong project in the wrong place. 7 stories in NAPA? - my vision is looking at that from the 121/29 stoplight - a tall apartment building looking back. Napa worker housing? Get serious - these fancy restaurants and hotels barely pay minimum wage - Keiths and your planning staff: how many workers are you planning per unit to "sell" to? Gondolas? Who in the world came up with that? Are our electeds really buying this? If so, time to recall before they are even elected. Put this to a countywide vote - let the voters decide. They can usually spot flimflam.
  29. gettingreal
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    gettingreal - March 22, 2012 6:13 pm
    Suggesting that they reduce parking to force people to use another mode of transportation would be great if we lived in Beijing where people are not free to travel as they please. Obama's whole raise gas prices to force people out of their cars strategy will ultimately cost him the election!!
  30. gizzi143
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    gizzi143 - April 29, 2012 6:02 pm
    I like the project too, and i know a lot of people that feel the same way I do... they just don't have the time to troll these comment areas and keep posting... they are too busy working so they can try and afford to live here. The fact of the matter is we need more affordable housing. And for those who asked who would want to move from Solano back to Napa to a smaller house in a walkable neighborhood with community gardens, green belts, river front with shops and restaurants... ME and most of my friends too. This is the future of sustainable living.
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