After 41 years as a St. Helena political junkie, I’m hanging ’em up. Before I go, I must warn you that a furious few citizens are working against yours and the town’s best interests. The subject is the sale of the city-owned Adams Street property. Look at the negative costs that must be stopped.
Just since this small self-appointed group shut down any reasonable hotel development discussion at a town hall type meeting at the firehouse on Oct. 22, 2016, we have spent $19,862.50 in just interest payments since November 2010.
Yep, $2,383.50 a month going down the drain for the past seven years (that’s $29,000 a year) — and continuing for three more — in a town that is broke and not always fully staffed to protect us.
Dear concerned citizens, you can’t sit home anymore. As registered voters you are 3,000 strong. Our city leaders must hear from you in order to lead us. Please come to the next meeting on this item. It’s time to take back your town.
Fast forward to the Tuesday, June 27 City Council meeting on this same subject. The furious few dominated that meeting with some questionable ideas and suspicious complaints. I know you’ll love this one:
One reason given to turn down an offer of $20 million up front and estimated annual revenues of $3 million was so someone could walk his dog along the river. Hoo boy; you can’t make this stuff up!
Each of the 19 speakers was applauded — by their cohorts. Didn’t matter if the latest speaker said something that contradicted, negated or replaced an earlier speaker’s remarks — they were applauded — every one.
These rude disruptions kept any words of reason on the sidelines. Including the following:
On the subject of employees for our new local hotel. All anybody wanted to talk about were those that would come from out of town. Nobody talked about the great opportunity for us to give St. Helena residents (who would walk or bike or take the St. Helena Shuttle to work) chances to get new jobs and upgrade their present jobs instead of driving out of town every day.
*According to City-of-hotels.com, a five-star hotel needs two employees per room; times 85 rooms (75 percent occupancy of 113 rooms) equals 170 employees. Assume 85 are St. Helena residents and 35 take the Vine to work. That leaves just 50 driving in; many carpooling — not hundreds of new cars a day coming in to town as repeatedly threatened by one speaker.
* He obviously was trying to use scare tactics; not be helpful to the subject. We heard from self-appointed experts on water tables, fault lines and parking systems. Based on long experience of local scare copy talk, we simply cannot believe them. I much more trust the project experts to be sure that they can build a proper project that meets all safety standards, rules and regs. They’ve got big skin in the game; they are not going to pay $20 million for a place where they can’t build.
* Nobody talked about the benefits from a luxe hotel that can offer externships, mentoring and classroom enhancement to students of our three fine, local culinary/hospitality programs: St. Helena High, Napa Valley College and CIA Greystone. It’s a win-win for both sides — the essence of enlightened self-interest. And all of that movement can be by local bike, feet or St. Helena Shuttle. Consider, too, the long-term top management jobs available to our young people in the hospitality business around the world.
* Nobody mentioned that visitors who sleep here shop, eat and play here — helping a struggling merchant base and further reducing traffic/parking difficulties. Nobody mentioned five empty storefronts downtown — the kiss of death when potential merchants come up to have a look. Nobody mentioned the worst sidewalk in America is right on our Main Street.
* Nobody mentioned the Visit Napa Valley numbers that say visitors who sleep in a hotel spend $401.59/day vs. day trippers at only $146/day. I flunked arithmetic — but I can pick the right number there.
* Nobody mentioned Calistoga’s latest Chamber funding is $400,000 and higher next year — while the St. Helena Chamber had to fight just to get $210,000. Nobody mentioned the recent NV Register headline: “(Napa) Hotel revenues boost budget.”
- Like always, nobody offered any better ideas.
So, in sum, every resident of St. Helena must get involved in this subject. In addition to throwing away that $2,383.50 a month in loan interest charges, we’ll also lose $250,000 of new hotel revenues every month until an Adams Street hotel goes live.
Well, gotta finish up now, the last carrier pigeon is about to fly.
Bill Ryan is a St. Helena resident and fishing columnist for the St. Helena Star and Napa Valley Register.