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Rabbi Niles Goldstein of Congregation Beth Shalom in Napa, who believes in "meeting people where they are," held a seminar on "Spirits and Spirituality" at the Napa Valley Distillery.  

Land Use
Napa County report looks for flaws in the planned watershed and oak initiative

A planned June ballot measure limiting vineyard development of oak woodlands has potential flaws, but none of them fatal, according to a legal analysis that will go to the Napa County Board of Supervisors on Tuesday.

“The initiative could subject the county to lawsuits, and could be partially invalidated” in several areas, a report by Miller Starr Regalia, a Bay Area law firm, said.

But even if supervisors believe the initiative is legally defective in whole or in part, they can’t disqualify the measure, Miller Starr Regalia. Courts are unlikely to grant a pre-election review, the report said.

That leaves the Board of Supervisors with the choice on Tuesday of adopting the measure or putting it before the voters in the June election.

The initiative’s co-author, Mike Hackett, said a court challenge often comes with environmental change, citing the creation of the agricultural preserve 50 years ago as an example. The new watershed and oak woodland measure was drafted by two “gold-standard” Northern California law firms, he said.

“I think the whole thing will hold up,” Hackett said Wednesday.

Backers of the initiative gathered enough signatures to qualify the initiative for the June 5 election. The Board of Supervisors ordered the legal analysis before deciding whether or not it goes on the June ballot.

Wine industry groups say the measure could be a blow to agriculture. Among other things, they say a proposed oak woodlands removal limit of 795 acres in the local hills and mountains will someday curtail vineyard development.

Proponents say the goal is to protect watersheds. That, in turn, protects local water supplies needed by residents in cities such as Napa, Calistoga, St. Helena and Yountville as well as agriculture, they say.

“It’s certainly not anti-agriculture,” Hackett said on Wednesday. “I just see that as a very hollow argument.”

Some parts of the measure might be unlawfully vague or misleading, the Miller Starr Regalia report said. The measure does not clearly provide accused violators with the right to a hearing. The measure might improperly treat vineyard replantings differently than other agriculture, the report said.

One question has been when the measure’s 795-acre oak woodlands removal limit for the agricultural watershed zoning district might be reached. Proponents say the cap should enable new hillside vineyards to be planted in areas with oaks until at least 2030. Opponents say the cap will be reached much sooner.

The count toward the 795 acres would start in September 2017. The Miller Starr Regalia report said 22.39 acres of vineyards involving oak woodland removal have been permitted or constructed since then and applications are pending for another 123.25 acres. That leaves 649 acres of cap space.

This would seem to alleviate the fear among some opponents that enough vineyard projects are in the pipeline to immediately trigger the cap.

But what about wildfires such as those that burned last October? The Miller Starr Regalia report said it’s unclear whether oaks destroyed in fires and other calamities count toward the cap.

The Atlas, Tubbs and Nuns fires burned an estimated 30,639 acres with oak woodlands, the report said. If 2.5 percent of these oak woodlands are considered “removed” under the measure, the oak woodland removal cap has already been reached.

Initiative backers deny oaks destroyed in a wildfire would count toward the cap, given these trees wouldn’t be removed as a result of human activity or intentional burning, the report said. But arson fires are caused by human activity and are intentional, it said.

“Moreover, it is unclear whether the concept of intentionality covers negligent or reckless human behavior, and what happens if the cause of a fire cannot be discerned,” the report said.

Oaks destroyed in backfires to combat wildfires also present an ambiguity, the report said. Fires lit by federal or state agencies are not subject to the measure. But a backfire might be ordered by a county or city fire official.

Hackett noted that the county in 2016 disqualified an earlier version of the watershed initiative on a technicality. When backers challenged the move in court, the county used Miller Starr Regalia to oppose them. Given that, he questioned having Miller Starr Regalia write the new report.

“I think it is very one-sided,” Hackett said. “But the citizens are awake now. There is more resistance to the status quo than ever before.”

Opposing the measure are the Napa County Farm Bureau, Napa Valley Grapegrowers, Winegrowers of Napa County and an original backer, Napa Valley Vintners. The Farm Bureau called for more community collaboration on the issue. The Grapegrowers said the measure would ban new vineyards in the agricultural watershed.

The Board of Supervisors is scheduled to discuss the Miller Starr Regalia report at 1 p.m. Tuesday at the county administrative building, 1195 Third St. in Napa.

Go to to read the Miller Starr Regalia report.

Blue Oak to build $10 million middle school campus in downtown Napa

Blue Oak School, a progressive, private Napa kindergarten-8th grade school, plans to build a new middle school campus in downtown Napa, across the street from its campus on Polk Street that serves the lower grades. The project is estimated to cost approximately $10 million.

On Feb. 14, the school bought a half-acre parcel with a primary address of 1584 Clay St. from members of the A.H. Smith Company for $3.7 million.

Currently home to the Malloy Imrie & Vasconi insurance agency, the plot stretches from Polk Street to Clay Street along Seminary Street.

“It’s a wonderful opportunity for us to grow into the community,” said Dan Schwartz, head of school at Blue Oak. “We hope to build a state-of-the-art facility and help create spaces that create innovation and critical thinking.”

Blue Oak School currently has about 125 students, including 60 middle school students on a Hayes Street campus, said Schwartz. Since the school opened in 2002, enrollment has previously reached as high as 180 students total between both campuses.

With the new campus, “our intent is to have up to 200 students,” said Schwartz.

Blue Oak School has not yet filed its plans with the city’s planning department. The plans will undergo public hearings before the Planning Commission and the City Council.

Malloy Imrie & Vasconi will relocate to Robert Louis Stevenson Plaza at 1700 Second St. That move could happen as soon as the next several weeks. The current commercial building on the Clay Street site will be demolished.

“We need more space,” said business co-owner Kent Imrie in a November. 2016 interview. “That’s the key reason for the move.”

J.L. Sousa, Register 

Blue Oak School recently purchased a lot in the 1100 block of Seminary Street, between Clay and Polk streets, across the street from the elementary school. A new middle school campus is planned. 

The new property will allow Blue Oak School to consolidate the school into one area, said Schwartz.

“We’re happy to make available that property so their two campuses can be side by side,” said Imrie.

Blue Oak plans to sell its current middle school property, located at 1248 and 1272 Hayes St. and use those proceeds to help fund the new construction, said the head of school.

Plans have not been finalized, but the new middle school campus should include three separate structures: a gym, a classroom wing and a reception/collaboration space. It will reach two stories high and total about 14,000 square feet.

“Being closer to downtown is a conscious decision for us to have somewhat more of an urban curriculum,” said Schwartz.

For example, “We’re already working in Napa Creek doing environmental studies,” he said. The new middle school helps Blue Oak “continue to grow our use of Napa as a cityscape.”

A new gym will benefit both the school and the Napa community, said Schwartz.

Blue Oak currently leases space for its basketball and volleyball teams to practice, he said. After the school builds its own gym, it could also be used by other community groups, he said. For those schools that don’t have gyms, it can be hard to find such space to borrow, the head of school noted.

“We’re hoping to create a space that works both for us,” and organizations such as the city’s Parks and Rec department, he said.

The gym will be about 5,000 square feet.

Ratcliff Architects 

A possible layout of the proposed new middle school campus for Blue Oak School in downtown Napa. A new gym could be used by other local community groups. 

The classroom wing will total about 6,500 to 7,000 square feet. The reception/collaboration area will total about 2,000 square feet.

Schwartz said the school is still working on the parking plan for the new middle school.

“We are sensitive to the needs of the community and zoning requirements, he said.

Schwartz said the students are already excited about the plans for a new middle school.

“The first graders would like a zip line” between the two buildings, he said with a laugh.

The design style of one building on the new campus should echo the original Polk street school building, said Schwartz. The other two new buildings may be a bit more modern with glass and walls that open to the courtyard “so we can have continuous flow for large school events,” he said.

Blue Oak’s middle school campus on Hayes Street is currently listed for sale for $7 million. It includes almost a full acre of land, a cottage and 11,400 square feet of building space. Blue Oak bought that parcel about 12 years ago, said Schwartz.

Blue Oak School first opened in 2002. The middle school campus was founded in 2005.

According to its website, Blue Oak is a non-denominational K-8 school fully accredited by the California Association of Independent Schools and the Western Association of Schools and Colleges, with full membership in the National Association of Independent Schools.

Tuition for the 2017-2018 school year is $23,500. Some 45 percent of families receive tuition assistance.

The new middle school could open as soon as during the 2019-2020 school year, said Schwartz. Until then, the middle school plans to remain where it is now.

Napa to widen section of Trower Avenue, bury utility lines

Napans on bicycle or foot will benefit from the latest upgrade to a major north Napa route – as will anyone simply making a left turn.

An improvement to a nearly block-long stretch of Trower Avenue was approved Tuesday night by the City Council. The city’s right of way west of Linda Vista Avenue will be widened by 22 feet.

The extra space, which Napa will gain by purchasing parts of four residential properties, will allow the south shoulder to receive a sidewalk, curb, storm gutters, curbside parking and a bicycle lane for a short section of Trower largely untouched since its absorption into the city more than four decades ago.

The upgrade, which will be covered using fees paid by developers in the Linda Vista area, will also extend a central turning lane into that part of Trower. Utility cables currently mounted on poles south of the street will be moved underground, bringing the block in line with other sections to the east and west.

Negotiations with the owners of four homes south of the roadway will begin after a 30-day period when citizens can appeal the Trower Avenue project’s environmental report, city engineer John Ferons said before the vote. Depending on how long Napa needs to agree on land prices with those homeowners, construction may take place either this fall or in the spring of 2019.

Modernization of this 300-foot section has lagged the rest of Trower because the south shoulder once was within a “doughnut hole” of unincorporated county land, which the city did not annex until the 1970s, according to Ferons.

“I think the neighborhood has been long aware of this project moving forward, and is very supportive,” said Councilmember Scott Sedgley, who voted for the expansion along with Doris Gentry and Jim Krider (Mayor Jill Techel and Peter Mott were absent).

“Obviously, property owners sometimes have different ideas when they’re personally affected, but I think the interests of safety and transportation along Trower is well served by finishing this link,” Sedgley said.

Along with the widening near Linda Vista Avenue, Trower Avenue is due for a resurfacing farther east between Highway 29 and Jefferson Street. That resurfacing project is one of several repairs and improvements funded from $7.8 million in Measure T taxes that the city will receive in the 2018-19 fiscal year.

Surprising no-shows as search for a new Napa Valley Unified School District superintendent begins

The Napa Valley Unified School District held meetings last week at three of its high schools to get input from parents about the kind of superintendent who should replace Patrick Sweeney, who is retiring in June.

The turnout at these meetings was surprising — surprisingly low — particularly for one school.

Of the meetings held at American Canyon High School, Vintage High School and Napa High School, the largest turnout was 10 people, and that was at ACHS.

The fact that the best-attended meeting was in American Canyon raised an eyebrow.

With so many commuters and young families, American Canyon civic meetings often don’t draw many people because they struggle to find the time for them.

Vintage High’s meeting attracted six people, while Napa High drew only three — and only one of them was a Napa High parent.

The other two people were a teacher from American Canyon and a parent whose kids go to Silverado Middle School.

The presence of just one Napa High parent at a meeting in the school’s Little Theater was considered a shocker.

Last year, Napa High was ground zero for some of the biggest controversies to rock the school district.

There was the football hazing scandal, which produced multiple expulsions of Napa High students and loads of angry parents who argued the punishment was too severe.

Dozens and dozens of Napa High football parents, as well as alumni, showed up en masse at school board meetings a year ago to protest the way Napa High and the district were handling the hazing issue.

The meeting room for the school board, located next door to the Napa High campus in district headquarters, was packed more than once with at least a hundred angry parents and others.

Many of them criticized Sweeney specifically for how the hazing scandal was handled.

Maria Sestito, Register file photo 


Napa High parents and alums also showed up in force at special meetings held last year by the school board to consider a proposal to do away with the Indian mascot.

The mascot meetings weren’t even held in the school board’s regular meeting room because turnout was expected to be very high — and it was.

Hundreds showed up for those raucous discussions held in the District Auditorium and, like the hazing controversy, some Napa High people accused Sweeney of having an agenda to get rid of the Indian.

There was so much anger at Sweeney and the school board that many Napa High alum and parents got together to launch an unsuccessful campaign to recall the trustees.

Some Napa High people hoped to get rid of the current trustees and replace them with new ones who would, in turn, fire Sweeney.

Given this recent history, there was an expectation that these upset parents and alums would show up Thursday night in the Little Theater to voice their opinions about the next superintendent.

The one Napa High parent who was there was herself surprised to not see more of her own kind at the meeting.

Her son played football for Napa High, and she was well aware of the sour mood in her community for how things went down last year.

She acknowledged that there still are raw feelings among others like her at Napa High. And yet, she was the only one to appear at the meeting.

One possible explanation for the poor turnout, she said, was the fact that the Napa High boosters club was meeting at the very same time elsewhere on campus.

The boosters meeting was an important one, she said, because it was their last planning session before their annual crab feed fundraiser.

That might explain why other Napa High football parents didn’t show up in the Little Theater, she said.

But, she added, where were the alums? “I expected some of them to show tonight,” she said.

With only three people in attendance, the consultants running the meeting (and the search for a new superintendent) wrapped things up early.

One of the consultants, Walt Buster, a retired school superintendent, said they had held a total of 17 focused meetings throughout the district to get input from those in the NVUSD.

“We met with parents from the Superintendent’s Advisory Committee, Union Leadership, Classified Management, Foundation and Community leaders, cabinet members, and there was an input meeting for students led by a principal,” Buster wrote in an email last Friday morning.

“We have all the input and remain open to getting more,” he added.

Anyone wishing to contact Buster can call him at 415-827-8782 or by email at

Buster said the next step after holding the public meetings will be to post the job notice on Feb. 26 through the Association of California School Administrators.

The other consultant involved is Keith Larick, who led the search eight years ago that resulted in Sweeney replacing then-retiring Superintendent John Glaser.

Larick said after they collect all the applications and resumes, they will share them with the school board. The trustees will review them and whittle down the pool of applicants to probably a half dozen or so finalists for interviews.

The consultants expect NVUSD to hire an experienced superintendent from another district. They said the job is too big and demanding for someone who is currently an assistant superintendent to step in and take over as a first-time superintendent.

The goal is to have the new superintendent selected by May 30, they said.

Maria Sestito, Register file photo