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Top 10 stories in Calistoga in 2019

Top 10 stories in Calistoga in 2019


It was a big news year for Calistoga in 2019. The city entered into an agreement with the county to purchase the Napa County Fairgrounds; it weathered another close call from a major wildfire, and withstood what felt like a bombardment of power shutoffs from PG&E that affected residents and businesses alike.

Here is a recap of The Weekly Calistogan’s top 10 highlights.

Napa County Fairgrounds saleAfter more than two years of negotiations, in August, the city reached an agreement with the county to purchase 34.3 acres of the Napa County Fairgrounds property for $7.2 million. The deal is now in due diligence, with escrow expected to close approximately Feb. 19, 2020.

The deal has hit a few bumps in the road, however, The city recently asked Napa County for an extension of due diligence and has delayed final approval of a financial model to fund the purchase.

In November, the city council cited an ongoing dispute between the county, the Napa County Fair Association and a third party over an estimated $1.4 million investment in equipment at the Speedway, and has asked the county to extend the due diligence period. On Dec. 24 the county granted the extension.

The city is also mulling how to deal with clean-up issues on the property including bringing buildings up to ADA code, replacing roofs, and the possible clean-up of toxic materials in the land.

Kincade Fire threatThe Kincade Fire started in Geyserville on Wednesday night, Oct. 23, and five days later had burned 75,000 acres, caused the evacuation of large portions of Sonoma County, and threatened to jump the line into Napa County, specifically, Calistoga.

Smoke could be seen on the not-too-distant horizon, smoke was in the air, and Calistoga was put on an advisory evacuation alert on Sunday, Oct. 27. The order was lifted on Oct. 31, just in time for the annual Halloween Parade.

Firefighters from around the state converged at the Napa County Fairgrounds, and the fire was contained Nov. 7, just five miles north of the Napa County border with Sonoma County on Highway 128.

PG&E PSPS eventsPG&E began implementing its PSPS (Public Safety Power Shutoff) program in September, in which the utility temporarily shut off power to customers during times of high winds and increased fire risk. The initial PSPS affected about 1,284 customers in the Calistoga area. Two subsequent PSPS events were implemented in October.

During the Kincade Fire, which started Oct. 23, as many as 7,000 in Napa County went without power at certain times. At one point PG&E implemented two PSPS events that overlapped each other. The city of Calistoga claimed a local emergency with about $40,000 to $50,000 in losses.

While Calistoga residents and businesses east of the Napa river were powered by PG&E generators during the outages, those west of the river went without power for days at a time.

Foothill Boulevard traffic light

The City of Calistoga is moving forward with plans to install a traffic signal at the busy intersection of Petrified Forest Road and Foothill Boulevard by next summer.

Traffic experts say it will significantly cut wait times and improve safety at one of the Upvalley’s busiest intersections. The light will cut the average wait time during peak hours from 90 seconds to 30 seconds, city staff and consultants said during a public meeting.

The signal is also intended to reduce the risk of accidents by eliminating confusion over who has the right-of-way at what’s currently a complicated and congested four-way stop that accommodates 14,000 cars per day, with more than 80 percent commuter traffic traveling through to Sonoma, Lake and Napa Counties.

The project would cost about $1 million, and most of that cost is already covered, said City Manager Mike Kirn. About $330,000 is already in the bank with funding from impact fees, and about $450,000 in available grants.

Upgrades for fire, police department

The Calistoga Police and Fire Departments received much-needed upgrades in 2019.

The fire department welcomed two new firefighters, and promoted another to full-time. The department also received an anonymous donation of $420,000 for a new fire engine. Recently approved salary increases for city firefighters, and the new rigs and equipment have also drawn more applicants to the department.

The city also approved $75,000 for the purchase of Mobile Data Computers (MDC) for city police cars. The MDCs are standard law enforcement equipment that, among other things, allows officers to document incidents on-site and communicate more efficiently with dispatchers while in the field. The Calistoga Police Department had been the only law enforcement agency in Napa County that did not have MDCs.

Calistoga and St. Helena City Councils also approved a shared-services agreement clarifying the terms under which one police department can help the other during staffing shortages.

New City Manager Mike Kirn

Mike Kirn was appointed city manager in June, after the departure of Dylan Feik in April. Kirn had been serving as acting city manager in the interim.

After six months on the job and a satisfactory performance evaluation, Calistoga City Manager Mike Kirn’s monthly salary will increase from $16,500 to $18,084.

Previously, Kirn served as Calistoga’s Public Works Director/City Engineer, and before that held the same position for the City of Fresno. Derek Rayner has replaced him as Calistoga’s Public Works Director.

Three prominent Calistogans pass away

The year saw the passing of winemakers Boots Brounstein and Bob Pecota, as well as former Calistoga Mayor Jack Gingles.

Adelle “Boots” Brounstein, the owner and co-founder of Diamond Creek Vineyards, passed away on July 31. She was 92. She and her husband, Al, created four small Cabernet vineyards on the property. At first, the single-vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon wines were selling for $7.50 a bottle. Later, the “cult” Cabernets would be the first Napa Valley wine to sell for $100 a bottle.

Pecota was a grape and land buyer for Beringer Vineyards, beginning in 1969. He and his wife, Susan, moved their family to Oakville in 1972 and bought their Calistoga home and vineyard in 1974. He developed and operated the Robert Pecota Winery and his 40-acre vineyards for more than 30 years, before selling it to Kendall-Jackson in 2006, to house Napa Valley’s Atalon Winery, which is now closed. Pecota was also one of the Calistoga Rotary Club’s biggest supporters. He passed away in September at age 80.

Jack Gingles was Mayor of Calistoga from 2006 to 2012. He passed away in August at 79.

He was one of the city’s longest-serving active politicians, having first run for office in 1974. He served on a citizen’s advisory committee, the planning commission, and on the city council. He also worked as a dispatcher at the police department. He is remembered for serving on many regional boards, and being a colorful character.

Wilkinson’s Hot Springs sold

In April, owners of the iconic Dr. Wilkinson’s Hot Springs Resort in Calistoga sold the nearly 70-year-old operation to hotel investment company Chartres Lodging Group. The resort will be managed by Kokua Hospitality, based in San Francisco.

The resort was created by the late Dr. John and Edy Wilkinson in 1953, and played a large role in the development of Calistoga as a renowned resort area.

Located at 1507 Lincoln Ave., downtown, the property is a 42-room lodging and wellness resort, with a bath house and spa services like mud baths and natural hot mineral springs pools.

The new owners have plans for upgrades to the property, including adding 39 rooms, and relocating the parking area that they say will remain true to Dr. Wilkinson’s original mission. They also plan to keep the classic neon sign on the outside of the building.

Businesses lost

Calistoga lost several businesses in 2019 including Checkers Restaurant, Bosko’s Trattoria, Cheer Bar, and Yo El Rey Roasting.

While Checkers closed, owner Ron Goldin partnered with Palisades Deli owner Eduardo Yanez, who moved the deli into the Checker’s space in October.

Bosko’s, a local favorite, closed in September, and will reopen as Mariage.

After opening in April, owner of Cheer Bar, the “soda fountain re-imagined” announced they were putting the business up for sale in August.

In November, after 11 years in business, Yo El Rey Roasting closed its doors. The organic coffee shop roasted its own beans and exhibited “real art.”

PG&E claims eminent domain for vineyard property

Pacific Gas and Electric is taking a Calistoga vineyard owner to court, seeking eminent domain to use a small portion of his acreage for a liquid natural gas (LNG) facility as it tests the line that runs up and down the Napa Valley.

Terry Gard has 63 acres at the gateway to Calistoga on Highway 29 and Dunaweal Lane, and says the property is not for sale now nor would he ever sell it.

PG&E’s final offer for 1.4 acres of the property was delivered to Gard’s attorney, John Borba, in June for $335,000. Gard said the appraisal is “vastly underestimated” and is also worried that his property will be devalued by construction of a LNG plant.

Construction of the plant on Gard’s property needs to start March 1, 2020, and construction will take about two years, according to PG&E. Gard’s property must be acquired by Feb. 1. “Failure to adhere to this timeline will result in potential risk to the reliability of supply services and the impact on the community and businesses and residents of Napa Valley would be significant,” court documents say.

The case will go to court in January.

Cynthia Sweeney's top 5 most memorable stories of 2019

It's been a busy news year in Calistoga, so picking a handful of favorite stories can be tough. But here are five that stand out in my mind for a variety of reasons. 

You can reach Cynthia Sweeney at 942-4035 or

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The Weekly Calistogan Editor

Cynthia Sweeney has been editor of The Weekly Calistogan since July, 2018. Previously, she was a reporter for the St. Helena Star, and North Bay Business Journal. She also spent a significant amount of time freelancing in Hawaii.

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Even though PG&E has turned the power back on from its latest Public Safety Power Shutoff, not having electricity is an inconvenience for all and a problem for many, including freelance writer Tim Carl, who lives in Calistoga.

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