On Thanksgiving Day, at least one holiday feast provided a place at the table for those in Napa who otherwise would have no home-cooked meal – or no home.
Through the efforts of more than two dozen volunteers, some 200 people were able to partake of the holiday at The Table, the charity that has provided meals to less-privileged Napans for more than three decades. In a dining hall at downtown First Presbyterian Church, volunteer cooks and servers produced a repast of stuffed turkey breasts, glazed hams, stuffing, sweet potatoes and all the other delicacies American families take for granted on Thanksgiving – except for those who otherwise might be left out because of poverty or homelessness.
Before opening The Table’s 50-seat dining hall at 1 p.m. for four hours of seatings, the holiday feast’s co-organizer, Red Boutaghou, gathered his fellow volunteers – many of whom serve together on the first Friday of the month – to remind them the day’s goal went beyond serving the best dinner possible. Outside, the first few dozen guests – a few standing beside carts loaded with their few possessions – waited for the doors to open.
“These people, they are friends and family – treat them that way,” Boutaghou, who worked in the New York City restaurant business before retiring and moving west in 2015, told volunteers waiting behind a steam table of meats and side dishes, or the pie slices and ice cream cups on the dessert bar. “Keep the people happy; give them whatever they want. It’s a party today.”
The Table has served meals to underprivileged Napans since 1986, but opened its doors on Thanksgiving for the first time only last year, according to board member Mary Beth Reyes. Even after such a short time, however, interest from would-be helpers and donors has bloomed, she said Monday.
“As soon as the weather changes, we get requests to volunteer. It just speaks to what our community is,” Reyes said.
Thanksgiving dinner at The Table is an undertaking requiring 64 pounds of turkey breasts rolled into roulades – and three days of preparation by Boutaghou and his wife Isly San Pedro, who began volunteering with the charity for its 2017 holiday feast. A team of 16 helpers who together with Boutaghou and San Pedro prepare one meal a month at The Table began pitching in on Tuesday, to be joined by more volunteers Thursday morning, some arriving hours before the first plates were served.
“It’s my favorite holiday because to me it’s friends, it’s family, it’s food,” he said earlier in the kitchen while drizzling balsamic vinegar onto trays of sautéed Brussels sprouts. “We plan it like that, we cook it that way and serve it that way. It’s like friends and family coming over, and that’s how I see it.”
An array of food purchases, donations and cash helped supply Thursday’s holiday feast in Napa, according to San Pedro, including last-minute gifts of Brussels sprouts from Trader Joe’s and ice cream by the local Ben & Jerry’s parlor.
Among volunteers who have worked with Boutaghou from the start – and also those who were pitching in for the first time on Thursday – the feeling of making the holiday meaningful was plain.
“We’ve helped at The Salvation Army before, so it’s a nice way to give back” on Thanksgiving, said Noel Lopreore, a first-time helper at The Table, as she and two other women chopped chives to garnish sweet potatoes. “I have plenty to be thankful for. I’m thankful, honestly, for this – makes me feel good to be a part of somebody’s family dinner,” she said.
“People would pay $50 for this buffet without a doubt,” said George O’Meara, an original member of Boutaghou and San Pedro’s monthly team. “People who are food-challenged, they’re incredibly thankful. It warms your heart, makes you feel good. It’s your opportunity to give back in a very big way.”
The Thanksgiving meal was a rare and much-appreciated moment of ease for one guest in particular –Tanya Romano, a cancer survivor who has been homeless for 16 months and whose mother is suffering from advanced dementia.
“I think it’s a miracle that it happens every year for us,” she said. “I’m thankful for this today; I needed this.”
Napa County’s effort to sell its 8.6-acre Old Sonoma Road property to the city of Napa to create housing and retail continues, even though the city’s interest in also using the site for a temporary city hall has waned.
The two parties have made no announcement on the talks since May. Deputy County Executive Officer Molly Rattigan told the Napa Valley Register that the city has in recent months experienced staff and elected leadership changes.
“There’s no hard-and-fast legal deadline,” Rattigan said. “I think we’re aware and understand the city is transitioning and needs a little more time.”
Interim City Manager Steve Potter said the city remains interested in buying the county’s former Health and Human Services Agency campus at 2344 Old Sonoma Road within city borders.
“I would say it’s slow, methodical forward progress,” he said.
County and city officials announced in May the framework for a possible deal. The city of Napa would buy the site and use the vacated Health and Human Services buildings for a temporary city hall while it built a new city hall downtown.
Then the city would sell the Old Sonoma Road property to its partner on the city hall project, Plenary Properties Napa. Plenary would transform the site into a new city neighborhood with both market-rate and affordable housing.
But a few things have changed. Potter, who took the interim city manager position in July, said it looks less likely the city will use the Old Sonoma Road site as temporary headquarters and is in discussions for other locations.
Also, the City Council will soon have two new members in Mary Luros and Liz Alessio. During their campaigns, Luros and Alessio questioned whether the city should move forward with Plenary on the city hall project in its present form and scale.
Whether a deal for the Old Sonoma Road site would be impacted by new ideas on the city hall project remains to be seen, given Plenary’s possible involvement in both projects.
Plenary has expressed in interest in building housing at the Old Sonoma Road site, Potter said. Other parties have contacted the city who are interested in building housing there as well.
For now, the city remains the sole party negotiating with the county to buy the Old Sonoma Road site.
“I am optimistic that we can reach a deal with the city,” Board of Supervisors chairman Brad Wagenknecht said. “I don’t think the city is still looking at moving city hall (temporarily) over there. That’s another issue.”
The city has the most to gain by seeing a good project built at the Old Sonoma Road site, Wagenknecht said. The city can be the “ringmaster” for development there, he said.
Napa County has set $7.5 million as the minimum sale price for the land, with money to go toward helping to build a new county jail.
In 2017, the county had developed a proposed master plan for the Old Sonoma Road site that would see 172 apartments and townhouses built on the property. The idea was to get the necessary zoning approved by the city, then sell a ready-to-build project to a developer.
But the proposed master plan proved controversial with some neighbors and the county decided to take a time out on the project. Then the city expressed interest a year ago in buying the site, leading to the ongoing negotiations.
The county has other options besides selling to the city. Two nonprofit, affordable housing groups also expressed interest in buying the Old Sonoma Road site. The county could revive its master plan effort or simply sell the land to a developer.
“If this doesn’t work out for any reason, we’re back to having that discussion with the Board on what the next step looks like for the county,” Rattigan said.
Napa County’s legislative wish list for 2019 will likely include a possible way to eke out more land for affordable housing without blowing a hole in the agricultural preserve: use state land.
Specifically, the county’s proposed state legislative platform mentions Napa State Hospital and the Veterans Home of California at Yountville. These sprawling state holdings are near cities and have vacant land.
“Commence discussions with the state to establish possible agreement on the development of state-owned land to develop housing at prices affordable to Napa County’s workforce,” the proposed platform says.
But don’t necessarily expect instant results. Deputy County Executive Officer Molly Rattigan said the county has broached the possibility with the state, but hasn’t gotten far because the state is doing strategic plans that involve both sites.
“We put this in the legislative platform because it is our wish list and where we’d like to see things happen,” Rattigan said. “Housing is a priority for the county and also a priority for the state.”
Still, there’s reason to believe the county is doing more than dreaming. The Little Hoover Commission released a September 2017 report called “Transforming the Yountville Veterans Home Campus.”
“This spacious property offers nearly unbounded opportunities for affordable housing for the people who work in the veterans home and playground and park space for their families,” the report said.
Also, the county in 2003 helped with the development of Skyline Apartments along Imola Avenue on state land near Napa State Hospital. The county and state reached agreement on a 60-year lease for the land.
Whether possible future projects might involve the state selling land for housing, leasing land for housing or building housing for Napa State Hospital and Veterans Home employees has yet to be fleshed out.
But the county has limits to what it hopes the state will do on the housing front. One version of the proposed platform opposed having housing build on state land leased by the county for Skyline Wilderness Park. The 850-acre park next to Napa State Hospital has 25 miles of trails.
Supervisor Diane Dillon wanted this line changed, even though she doesn’t want homes built at Skyline Park. Otherwise, California might think the county approves of building housing on any state land not singled out for protection, such as Las Posadas State Forest near Angwin, she said.
“That’s the danger of calling one place out,” Dillon said.
The platform instead could simply rule out building housing on state-owned land designated for parks, agriculture or open space, she added.
Napa County, like much of California, faces a housing crunch. The median price for a home in recent months has topped $650,000. A report received by the county said that average 2017 apartment rents were $1,000 for a studio, $1,713 for one bedroom and $2,085 for two bedrooms.
Each year, the county puts together priorities for its state and federal lobbyists. A legislative subcommittee of Supervisors Ryan Gregory and Dillon on Nov. 16 made recommendations, with the full Board of Supervisors to weigh in this December.
Gregory called the state and federal priority lists “our playbook” for possible legislation affecting the county.
Besides housing, the platforms include such priorities as seeking disaster damage reimbursements and glassy-winged sharpshooter pest control funding and opposing any push that might arise to establish a tribal-owned casino in Napa Valley.