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2018 was a busy year for Calistoga. Among the stories that made the headlines were increased water rates, a fiasco with PG&E, the city’s purchase of a portion of the Napa County Fairgrounds, and city council elections. Here’s a recap:

Water rate increase

A water rate increase of 15 percent went into effect the end of April, after much deliberation, rate studies, public hearings, community meetings, and four new plan options by the city.

Rates will also go up 14 percent in 2019, and 10 percent for the next three years. Wastewater charges also went up 15 percent, and will go up 13 percent in 2019, 10 percent in Fiscal Years 2020 and 2021, and will end with a 3 percent increase in the final year of the plan.

Despite outcry from residents, the city was handcuffed by Proposition 218 and the 2015 San Juan Capistrano ruling, and not allowed to offer a tiered rate structure as it has in the past. This angered some residents who argued that those who use the most water should be charged more on a per-unit basis.

Although the tiered structure had been used in Calistoga for a very long time, it is no longer allowable in the state of California, city officials countered. “We used to ‘punish’ high water users. That’s not allowed any more, and that is not something we can do… it’s the state of California,” said Mayor Chris Canning at the time.

Napa County Fairgrounds sale

In November, a much-anticipated agreement was reached between the City of Calistoga and the county to buy a portion of the Napa County Fairgrounds, which is located in Calistoga.

The city intends to purchase 34.4 acres of the 70.6-acre property, paying $225,000 per acre, which includes the Calistoga Speedway, Calistoga RV Park, Butler Pavilion, Tubbs Building, Cropp Building and the great lawn. Napa County will retain ownership of the remaining 36.3-acre portion of property, which includes Mount St. Helena Golf Course and the Tucker Building.

No plans for the property have yet been disclosed by the city, and the mayor has said any plans will be discussed publicly.

Management of the property, which until Dec. 31 was the responsibility of the Napa County Fair Association, has been taken over by the county, and all current contracts with the fairgrounds are being continued.

Due diligence on the sale will be completed by spring, at which time more concrete plans could be in place, county officials said.

Don Williams, Gary Kraus win city council seats

In a race for two open city council seats, new challenger Don Williams took one seat by a wide margin with 47 percent of the vote, and Gary Kraus narrowly won the other over fellow incumbent Jim Barnes by 37 votes in the November election.

While the Kraus and Barnes campaigns emphasized city government experience, Williams’ campaign called for new leadership, more restrained development, and more equitable water rates.

The election essentially polarized the city, with those who advocated halting commercial development to maintain Calistoga’s small-town character versus those who maintained slow but steady growth is the path to keeping the town fiscally healthy.

Incumbent Mayor Chris Canning, who ran unopposed, also won re-election.

PG&E cuts power to entire town

The entire town of Calistoga was without power Oct. 14 -15 during PG&E’s first deliberate power safety shutdown in Napa County.

The intentional shutoff affected about 5,700 customers in Napa County, and was called because of the extreme risk of fires due to strong winds and exceptionally dry conditions, PG&E said.

There was much confusion among residents and business owners as to when or even if the power was going to be turned off. Subsequently, Calistoga public schools were forced to close, and Calistoga stores and restaurants were out of business until late Monday, losing tens of thousands of dollars in inventory and business.

PG&E subsequently brought in and installed expensive back-up generators for the town as a temporary fix, should it need one.

The power company then sent a company executive to meet with city and county officials at a town hall meeting, where he explained that the utility was still working on ironing out specific problems with the safety programs.

PG&E also reiterated that company would not reimburse individuals or businesses for losses during such power shutoffs.

Brannan’s Grill, Goodman’s closes, more to come

Marking the end of an era, Brannan’s Grill in downtown Calistoga closed its doors July 29.

Co-owners Ron Goldin and Mark Young decided to sell the restaurant after two decades, citing a list of challenges including the lingering impact of last October’s wildfires, decreased sales, challenges in finding and retaining staff, and the impact of negative social media reviews as factors driving their decision.

Goldin also announced the sale of Checker’s Restaurant late in the year, but that deal fell through.

Goodman’s retail store, also an institution, in operation in St. Helena since 1879 closed its doors at the end of November. Owner Amber Ebling cited a lack of enough foot traffic and high rents as the reasons for closing the store.

Her rent has gone up every year, which is frustrating, but not unexpected, she said.

Given the long history of the store in the Napa Valley, Ebling said it’s sad that the store has to close, but she needs to make a living and, “I can’t be here (just) for the history.”

Sugar Train, in the historic train cars, also closed in December. Rabbit Rabbit Fair Trade announced it will be closing, Tanit restaurant will be closing, and Man’s Supply Store and Blackbird of Calistoga will close at least temporarily due to seismic-retrofitting of their building.

Calistoga Girl’s Volleyball win section title, makes run to state

The Calistoga volleyball team made history this season, winning its first North Coast Section title and qualifying for the NorCal state tournament. The Wildcats, playing as the eighth seed in NCS playoffs, completed upset after upset before defeating Jewish Community School of San Francisco in the championship game in front of a packed house at Calistoga high school.

With their section title secured, the Wildcats automatically qualified for the NorCal playoffs, where their magical run came to an end in the first round.

Still, it was the first section title for any girls sport in Calistoga history and the first for any sport since 1999.

Affordable housing gains in 2018

Residents began moving in to a new 30-unit Senior Apartments project on lower Washington Street in August.

In 2015, the city of Calistoga paid $950,000 for the 0.74-acre parcel to be developed as housing for those 62 and older.

The building was originally scheduled to be completed in April or May, but construction was delayed due to the wildfires of 2017.

The Senior Apartments were advertised as being 564 square feet with energy-efficient appliances and a 70-square foot balcony or patio, in one- and two-bedroom units. Rents are based on income and start at $485 per month.

Another new housing project for 78 apartments was unanimously approved by the Planning Commission on Dec. 12.

The project will be located on vacant land on Lincoln Avenue between Calistoga Motor Lodge to the north, and the John Deere dealer to the south, between Silverado Trail and Brannan Street.

The 2.89-acre property will feature modern farmhouse architecture with two 3-story, nearly 40-foot tall buildings facing Lincoln Avenue, each with patio or balcony. Behind will be a community center and another residence.

One-bedroom apartments will start at $1,490.

Francis House opens

After sitting vacant for more than 50 years, the fully restored Francis House on Myrtle Street opened in September.

Owners John and Dina Dwyer spent three years lovingly, painstakingly, renovating the historic building back to its original splendor. Extensive renovations included a seismic retrofit and adhering to historical restoration guidelines.

It was originally built in 1886 as a family home for prominent local merchant James H. Francis.

From 1919 to 1946, it served as the Calistoga Hospital. After that, changes in ownership, natural disasters and the passing of time contributed to the fading of the property. It was closed down by the state of California in 1965 and has remained vacant until now.

The five-room inn also received a 2018 Preservation Design award from the California Preservation Foundation.

PUC hosts Camp Fire victims for tournament

Pacific Union College did its part in helping victims of the Camp Fire. In November, the school volunteered to host Paradise Prep’s basketball tournament in Angwin and donate all proceeds back to the heavily damaged school.

For the students of Paradise Prep that comprised the boys and girls basketball teams, the weekend tournament provided a much-needed break from reality – even if just for a moment.

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