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Courtesy of Tubay Yabut Photography 

Brandon Trejo of Napa will continue his professional boxing career on April 14 on a card promoted by Thompson Boxing Promotions in Salinas. Trejo has a 3-0 record.

Setting goals
Napa: Housing costs, supply are city residents’ top concern

Whatever worries those living in Napa may have, the most common concern may be simply affording to live there.

That was the conclusion of a survey of townspeople that was a jumping-off point for the City Council, which on Friday held its annual workshop to set its priorities and goals in the coming months. Chief among them was grappling with a housing market where swelling home prices and rents show no signs of slowing down, even as much of the 80,000-strong population slips farther behind the incomes needed to buy or rent.

A December survey of 300 Napans by Probolsky Research of Newport Beach listed housing affordability as the No. 1 issue residents want to see the city government take on, and even with a full plate of topics to cover over eight hours, Napa leaders agreed.

“It’s a crisis here, it’s a crisis in the Bay Area, and it’s a crisis across the state,” said Community Development Director Rick Tooker during the full-day workshop at the Napa Valley College library.

With median home prices surpassing $600,000, the gap for a median-income family to afford one has exceeded $300,000, Tooker told the council. Furthermore, more than a third of local families earn less than $50,000 a year, and about 40 percent of Napa’s senior citizens are low-income.

Napa in recent years has taken some steps to streamline housing construction, including a loosening of fees and regulations for those building accessory units inside or outside existing houses. But city officials on Friday called on the council to consistently give their backing to home development in smaller lots and at greater densities – even while conceding possible blowback from neighbors opposed to denser housing.

While projects such as the Stoddard West apartments behind the chain stores of Soscol Avenue may be noncontroversial, said City Manager Mike Parness, “once you try to put in accessory dwelling units or four-story housing, you get into the question of what’s more important – preserving the peace and quiet of neighborhoods that have been around for 50, 60, 100 years, or meeting a legitimate need for housing? There’s no easy answer.”

The city’s changing demographics also will require rethinking the kinds of homes to build in future decades, according to Rajeev Bhatia, urban designer for the Dyett & Bhatia planning firm of San Francisco. Napans 70 and older are expected to rise from 13 to 21 percent of the city population by 2040, he said, driving a need for more single-floor homes closer to services and businesses.

Future residents at the other end of the age scale may shape the local housing market by also seeking housing closer to central Napa and more easily reached by foot or bicycle, Bhatia told council members. He also recommended that Napa build downtown parking garages for easy conversion to office and other uses, should ride-sharing services and automated cars reduce demand for vehicle storage.

Napa’s tourists as well as its residents also were a point of debate on Friday, as officials pondered the future of a hotel market that now numbers 2,547 rooms and suites – with 675 more units approved but unbuilt. A further 1,582 rooms are part of lodging projects in various stages of city review, Tooker reported.

Given Napa’s increasing desirability to builders as well as vacationers, city directors urged the council to use its leverage to support projects in and near downtown, rather than in more distant areas where more hotel rooms are likely to increase traffic congestion and other stresses.

“Capacity is not the issue; we have the capacity,” said Parness. “We need to get the message out (to developers) about what kinds of hotels we want and where we want them, and where we don’t want them.”

Councilman Peter Mott agreed, stating his wish to move away from projects such as the Meritage, which opened in 2006 near the Napa Valley Commons office park and has expanded several times since. For such developments, he said, “at this point I’m like, no, it doesn’t support our downtown and we need our industrial land.”

Finance Director Brian Cochran predicted the continuing importance to Napa’s bottom line of hotel room taxes, which already account for a quarter of the general fund. From the current level of $22.9 million a year, bed taxes should supply $38.8 million by the 2023-24 fiscal year – nearly as much as the $39.3 million predicted to be drawn from property taxes, and well ahead of the $21.8 million projection for sales taxes.

Amid the promising outlook, however, a consultant cautioned Napa leaders to be mindful of how fickle such revenues can be – pointing to the devastation in Sonoma County caused by the October wildfires.

“As you become more dependent on hotel tax and sales tax, remember that these are the most elastic sources of revenue, the most dependent on the economy,” said Rod Gould, senior partner at Management Partners, the San Jose consultancy that helped organize the council workshop. “Look at Santa Rosa – they’re broke. They are spending money they do not have to help their residents, and their revenue has fallen off a cliff.”

What’s Next
Pathway Home clients moved out of Yountville building after deadly shootings
J.L. Sousa, Register 

Mike Chiurco, the lead groundskeeper at the Vets Home, created a heart sculpture that he placed near the impromptu memorial for the three Pathway Home staff victims. One of the women was pregnant, thus the fourth, smaller heart for the unborn child. 

The remaining military veterans at The Pathway Home have been moved out the facility in the wake of the shootings Friday in Yountville that left three employees, a child in the womb, and the gunman dead, directors announced Sunday.

Six clients who were being treated at Pathway, an inpatient center for veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars suffering from post-traumatic stress and other disorders, have been shifted to temporary housing and are receiving care from Napa County, the federal Department of Veterans Affairs and other providers, according to Larry Kamer, a volunteer and former board member for the program.

The six men are in temporary housing at an undisclosed location in Napa, Kamer said Sunday night. The San Francisco Chronicle reported later that the remaining clients were staying at different hotels across the county.

Pathway’s headquarters inside the Madison Building at the Veterans Home of California – where a recently expelled client killed the program director, two clinicians and himself – remained closed off as a crime scene.

Where Pathway will house and treat veterans in the future – and what new security measures may be added – remained unsettled in the wake of the killings, but Kamer emphasized its leaders’ intention for the program to continue – even if the emotional trauma linked to the Madison Building proves too much for therapy to continue there.

J.L. Sousa, Register 

A memorial has sprung up near Madison Hall at the Veterans Home of California at Yountville where a former member of The Pathway Home program killed three staff members on Friday, March 9.

“Pathway will continue in one way, shape or form, but we are taking the situation day by day right now,” said Kamer, whose wife Devereaux Smith, also a Pathway employee, escaped from the gunman – Army veteran Albert Wong, 36 – along with several other people. “… We want to be there for them; we’ve experienced a great tragedy that points up the need for this care in a very high-profile way.”

“People may not want to live or work there (at the Veterans Home) after something like this has happened,” he added. “But we are in active talks with the Veterans Home, CalVet and the VA to see if there’s another facility that’s appropriate.”

In the wake of the killings, Pathway’s board of directors has taken over daily operations and “is working overtime and reaching out to both veterans’ agencies and the community for houses and apartments that can house these guys,” said Kamer. “… It’s not as if ready-made facilities are available for this kind of treatment. We have an urgent need to just be sure our veterans have a place to stay and a place to receive care.”

Wong, who reportedly had recently been dismissed from The Pathway Home, entered the Madison Building with a gun at about 10:20 a.m. Sunday and took three workers hostage: executive director Christine Loeber, clinical director Jennifer Golick and psychologist Jennifer Gonzales Shushereba, who was 26 weeks pregnant. All were found dead by gunshot at about 6 p.m.

J.L. Sousa, Register 

Veterans Home of California at Yountville lead groundskeeper Mike Chiurco tidies up around the memorial that has sprung up near Madison Hall following the tragic shootings at The Pathway Home on Friday. He created the heart sculpture, seen at right, when he came to work on Monday to honor the victims, including one of the staff member's unborn child.

“Our highest priority continues to be to care for the veterans, to make sure they have a place to stay, to make sure they get therapy and care and try to keep them together, because keeping them together is a really important thing,” Kamer said.

Pathway and CalVet directors said it was too early to know what new security measures might be put in place at the Veterans Home. “We’ll wait for the outcome of the investigation and let law enforcement do their job,” CalVet spokesperson June Iljana said Monday morning.

The program’s building includes surveillance cameras and a check-in desk, but guards on the Yountville campus are not armed – a fact that irked the group representing security personnel there and at CalVet’s other retirement homes across the state.

“To date, administrators have been willing to risk public safety rather than provide trained law enforcement officers with firearms,” the California Statewide Law Enforcement Association (CSLEA) said in a statement. “Rather than the state taking a proactive approach to adequately protect their residents, staff, and visitors, CSLEA’s fears have been, and continue to be, that it will take a tragic event to force administrators to finally act.”

During the Pathway board’s emergency meeting Saturday, relatives, friends and co-workers of the three victims met with members of the VA, state Department of Veterans Affairs, Napa County Mental Health, California Highway Patrol and the town of Yountville, staff members said in a statement posted to the program’s website Sunday.

“The Pathway Home’s Board of Directors is developing a long-term plan for these Veterans so they do not experience a lapse in services,” the statement read. “We are grateful to the San Francisco VA for stepping in so quickly to provide ongoing resources.”

J.L. Sousa, Register 

Madison Hall, or Building G, at the Veterans Home of California at Yountville on Monday morning. A former member of The Pathway Home program killed three staff members on Friday after taking them hostage.

Social workers and therapists also were assigned to work with current Pathway residents as well as staff members who escaped harm on Friday. Seven staff members remain active, according to Kamer.

Pathway board members have announced a memorial service for the victims at 6 p.m. March 19 at the Lincoln Theater, 100 California Drive in Yountville. In addition, Pathway and Yountville officials along with mental health providers are planning a community forum on mental health and public safety next week at a date and location to be announced.

A fund has been opened to support the families of Loeber, Golick and Shushereba. Donations can be sent to the 3 Brave Women Fund, c/o Mentis, 709 Franklin St., Napa, CA 94559.

Archer hotel debut highlights another busy commercial year in downtown Napa

The heart of Napa continued its transformation into a high-rent tourist hub in 2017, a trend symbolized by – but not limited to – the opening of a multistory luxury hotel downtown.

2017 saw the opening or expansion of 21 storefronts in the central business district, including a dozen devoted to food, wine or craft beer, according to an annual report on downtown construction and business shared with the City Council on Tuesday.

Real estate transactions in downtown and the Oxbow district totaled $43 million for the year, reported Robin Klingbeil, Napa’s senior development project coordinator. While that figure was down from the $89.1 million of property that changed hands in 2016, it included prime locations such as the former Franklin Station post office, now earmarked for an 80-room hotel; the 25,000-square-foot home of the ExerTec fitness center west of the Andaz and Archer hotels on First Street; and a parking lot directly south of the CIA at Copia food, wine and art center.

The highlight of downtown development was the debut of Archer, the 183-room, $70 million lodging that opened in November on the old site of the Merrill’s drugstore at 1230 First St. In addition to being downtown’s largest infusion of hotel rooms since the 2009 arrival of the Andaz immediately west, the Archer adds another high-end eatery, Charlie Palmer Steak, along with a rooftop lounge and spa scheduled to open this spring.

Archer’s opening brought the number of overnight rooms and suites in central Napa to 1,113, including 957 in hotels and another 156 in bed-and-breakfast inns, Klingbeil said.

At street level, the mix of downtown commerce evolved further. While more wine tasting rooms joined an already ample supply, the city core also became home to unorthodox businesses like the coffee-and-workspace Workmix Café and Ella’s Cathouse Center – and even Furniture 4 Less, a family-run furniture store occupying a onetime Salvation Army thrift shop in a seeming throwback to Napa’s pre-tourism past.

Work also continued in 2017 on future business anchors like First Street Napa, the reboot of the Town Center shopping arcade near the Archer hotel. Four of its 45 spaces are operating, with eight more tenants announced as opening this spring.

Elsewhere, the three-story, mixed-use Wiseman building at Main and Clinton streets was substantially built during 2017 before debuting last week, and renovation continued at the Borreo Building on Soscol Avenue, where the Stone Brewing Co. plans to open a gastropub later this year. The Napa Valley Register’s former Second Street office was torn down starting in July and its ground prepared for Register Square, which will include 51 townhouses and street-level retail space.

Overall, Napa’s real estate transactions have totaled more than $737 million since 1997, according to city figures. That was the year before voters’ approval of the Napa River flood control project that sparked development in areas once prone to damage from rising waters.

Napa County supervisors want to form Assessment Appeals Board

Napa County supervisors want to hand the often complicated business of refereeing property tax assessment disputes and related issues to an appointed body.

No longer do they want to judge whether the county assessor overvalued a vineyard by more than $1.6 million, as in one recent case. No longer do they want to decide debates over hundreds of thousands of dollars in house values.

The five supervisors sit as the five members of the county Board of Equalization. They are taking steps to form an assessment appeals board to take over the job.

Among the proposed requirements to sit on the Napa County Assessment Appeals Board is five years experience in California as a public accountant, real estate broker, attorney or property appraiser with appropriate accreditation.

Supervisors Diane Dillon and Belia Ramos are attorneys. Otherwise, supervisors on the Board of Equalization lack these qualifications.

“This takes a special expertise that isn’t always up here,” Supervisor Ryan Gregory said.

Plus, convening as the Board of Equalization in the middle of a Board of Supervisors meeting, can make for a busy day. Sometimes trying to keep two meeting schedules on track proves to be a juggling act.

“It’s distracting,” Gregory said. “It takes a lot of time and it keeps us from other important business.”

On Jan. 23, supervisors convened as the Board of Equalization at 10 a.m. They were to hear a case involving, not taxes, but a late filing for change-of-legal-entity papers pertaining to downtown Napa properties. Only the Board of Equalization could waive the $32,000 penalty.

On behalf of the owners of the various First Street parcels, Todd Zapolski said he’d been trying to have a hearing for several months. But the crush of the Board of Supervisors agenda that day meant delaying the matter to the afternoon.

“This is how we’ve been tending to do Board of Equalization meetings, postponing them to the afternoon for the last year or two because of time constraints on our agenda,” Dillon said.

But Zapolski couldn’t attend in the afternoon.

“I would hope we could hear that matter and try to move on,” Zapolski said.

Supervisors needed to switch from being the Board of Equalization to being the Board of Supervisors to take care of county work. They delayed the hearing until Feb. 6, held it and took the matter under consideration.

On March 21, 2017, the Board of Equalization faced another time crunch because of the need for a Board of Supervisors closed session. It talked of delaying a hearing until the next meeting involving vintner Michael Parmenter and his house.

“We’ve been patient,” Parmenter told supervisors. “But our original hearing was almost two years ago, our original hearing date … So it’s become a bit of burden, just the fact we have to continue to go through this and continue to pay what we think is an excessive property tax.”

“The challenge is, we’re trying to manage an agenda,” Supervisor Alfredo Pedroza said. “We don’t know how many hearings we’re going to have. It’s very fluid.”

Parmenter stayed at the meeting and the Board of Equalization squeezed his case in.

Out of nine Bay Area counties, only Napa County has a board of equalization with county supervisors hearing the cases. The others have assessment appeals boards. Some of these counties face highly technical appeals cases involving such ventures as oil refineries and bio-tech facilities.

The Board of Supervisors on March 6 took the first step toward forming an assessment appeals board. Still to be worked out are such details as how much members will be paid, with $200 per meeting suggested.