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Vintage's Oscar Loyola (9) is guarded closely by Napa High's Eli Garcia on Tuesday night.

Harvest of Napa opens, launching local medical cannabis market

Marijuana sales in Napa have finally moved into the light – and onto the shelf.

The city’s new era of legal cannabis retailing has begun with the debut of Harvest of Napa, the first medical dispensary to do business in the county. The outlet at 2449 Second St. west of downtown opened on New Year’s Eve, the first fruit of a city ordinance that followed years of debate and an earlier, aborted attempt to bring a dispensary to Napa.

Napa and Napa County still have no dispensaries for recreational marijuana.

Harvest of Napa, a branch of Tempe, Arizona-based Harvest Health & Recreation Inc., provides a local outlet to medicinal users who have relied on dispensaries in Vallejo and other counties as Napa Valley communities have taken a slower path to retail legalization.

Of the customers frequenting Harvest in its first few days of operation, “almost all of them” previously got their supplies in Vallejo, the Napa store’s general manager Jamie Bender said Tuesday.

Set inside a one-story concrete-block building near Highway 29, Harvest of Napa features a 1,600-square-foot showroom furnished much like a high-end boutique with subdued lighting, illuminated shelves and wooden display tables. Various strains of flower marijuana are displayed on the long rear wall, below video monitors listing each variety’s brand, price and percentage of THC, the psychoactive ingredient in cannabis.

The Napa dispensary also offers pre-rolled cannabis as well as vape cartridges, tinctures, lotions and other products, as well as a refrigerator case for edibles – brownies, snickerdoodles, crackers and other foods laced with THC as an alternative to the smokable product.

Harvest currently operates from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. seven days a week, and Bender predicted the dispensary will eventually open longer hours – possibly to the city’s allowed 8 p.m. closing time – as business increases.

As a medicinal outlet, Harvest of Napa sells only to those who first present a doctor’s recommendation to use marijuana products, and visitors must be at least 21 years old to enter. The majority of customers during the store’s first week in business are seeking products to relieve anxiety, pain or insomnia, according to Bender.

After the City Council passed its ordinance allowing cannabis dispensaries in December 2017 – four years after repealing an earlier version amid fears of a conflict with a continuing federal ban on marijuana – skeptics in the Bay Area cannabis industry warned a Napa market would struggle without the right to sell to non-medical customers, a practice California voters approved in a 2016 ballot measure. Proposition 64 guarantees residents’ right to use marijuana recreationally but allows cities to allow or ban adult-use retail outlets within their boundaries.

Of 417 licensed dispensaries in California, 49 sell only medicinal cannabis, the state Bureau of Cannabis Control reported in September.

Far from chafing at local regulations, Bender described Napa’s medical-only retailing ordinance a smooth fit for Harvest, which operates medicinal outlets in eight other states. If the city eventually allows marijuana sales without a doctor’s recommendation, he added, Harvest’s business model of matching products and dosages to visitors’ needs would remain the same.

“We are a patient-focused company and that will never change,” he said during a showroom tour. “We’re all about finding the right product for each person’s body. … Hospitality and education are the two things we believe will keep us at the top of the (local) market.”

At least seven groups have applied for clearances to sell medicinal cannabis within the city of Napa, according to city records. Of those, Korova Cannabis has been certified to do business at 917 Enterprise Way and has applied for a building permit, according to Jose Cortez of the city Planning Division.

Partners with The Higher Path also announced a pending certificate to open a dispensary at 1963 Iroquois St., but no building permit was reported for that site as of Wednesday.

Napa Valley Expo rejects claim of historic status for model railroad exhibit

As the courtroom fight between the Napa Valley Expo and a model railroad society enters its second year, another battlefield has emerged – over whether the train group’s exhibit merits protection as a historic resource.

The Expo’s board of directors on Tuesday turned aside a claim by the Napa Valley Model Railroad Historical Society that the building housing its elaborate miniature train layout, which opened in 1970 at the Expo’s Third Street fairground, has historic value that requires an environmental study before fair directors can evict the group.

Rail enthusiasts’ attempt to protect their train showcase on cultural grounds is the latest twist in a conflict that began in 2017, when the Expo board declined to renew the society’s lease past the end of the year. The train group sued that December to block its eviction, and the case remains in Alameda County Superior Court.

Directors of the state-owned Expo seek to remove the model railroad building to make room for an overhaul of the 32-acre fairground property. A draft master plan calls for the model train site to become a parking area that would serve a new covered pavilion for the Junior Livestock Auction, one of the most popular events at the Town & Country Fair.

However, the Napa train society argues tearing down its building – a two-story structure attached to a pair of Quonset huts – would illegally launch the fairground overhaul without performing site studies required by the California Environmental Quality Act.

The model railroad group was founded in 1955 and assembled its first layout in Yountville before creating smaller, portable exhibits at various Napa sites followed by a larger one at the Yountville Veterans Home’s Madison Hall, according to the Evans & De Shazo report. Later, the train society won approval to build a permanent exhibit at the Expo, which opened in September 1970.

In rejecting the society’s claim of historic protection, the Expo cited a 68-page study by the Sebastopol-based historic preservation consultancy Evans & De Shazo Inc., which studied the history both of the fairground building and the 1/87-scale railroad and diorama it houses to determine whether they meet the standards for inclusion in the California Register of Historic Places.

The building “does not appear to be associated with any events or patterns of development that are significant in local, state or national history,” the report’s authors stated. Furthermore, the structure’s construction carries no particular architectural style or historic form, the study added.

Members of the train society have described the Napa exhibit as a mix of rail-related scenes from Napa County and other parts of Northern California. Nonetheless, the report denied that the display had inspired any “particular advancements in the model railroad industry,” or in model railroad form, landscape design or technology.

Dan Jonas, president of the model rail society, criticized the process by which the report was made, saying the Expo did not notify him or the group’s historian to learn more about the background of the society or its building.

“The report was done surreptitiously, and you need to go back and re-evaluate what’s been done. The report is incomplete as currently designed,” he said, adding that the study also failed to account for the group’s work curating and researching its train exhibits.

Since taking the Expo to court, rail group members have continued to meet and hold exhibitions in the Napa building despite the eviction order. The exhibit shut down in June 2018 and postponed its public events, only to reopen in early September.

Earlier, inspections of the miniature train showcase arranged by Cal Fire and the state Fairs Financing Authority led to reports asserting problems with electrical safety and fireproofing, as well as weaknesses in the foundation and structure. Jonas, the group president, alleged “inaccuracies” in those reports at the time but declined to say which points the group believed were untrue.

Napa County's obscure airport commission has 13 applicants

Napa County supervisors went from having pilot Christian Palmaz as the lone candidate for the Airport Land Use Commission to needing to sift through 13 applications.

It’s the latest turn in a saga of a usually low-profile commission and an appointment that usually would be routine. But Palmaz’s application drew fire from opponents of his controversial, now-dead proposal for a personal-use heliport.

The Board of Supervisors on Oct. 23 decided to readvertise for the position after critics said the original notice of a vacancy received too little publicity. On Tuesday, supervisors voted to deal with the 13 applications by seeking some advice.

Supervisors voted to let the Airport Advisory Commission screen candidates for the Airport Land Use Commission. And if those two commissions sound similar, they are very different.

The Airport Land Use Commission weighs whether development near local airports is appropriate, given airport flight paths. This state-required commission in Napa County has the five county planning commissioners and must have two members with aviation experience.

Supervisor Brad Wagenknecht said the commission tries to protect airports from having too much development nearby. Too much adjacent development can lead to noise complaints from neighbors about airport operations.

“I’ve been hearing about other airports that are closing because there’s too much development around them,” Wagenknecht said.

Although usually low-profile, the Airport Land Use Commission was in the spotlight in 2017 when it ruled against Palmaz’s proposed, personal-use heliport on Mount George. Controversy over Palmaz’s efforts to secure a personal-use heliport spilled over to his application to be on the Airport Land Use Commission.

In June 2018, county voters passed Measure D banning new personal-use heliports.

Palmaz told the Napa Valley Register in October that he is no longer seeking a personal-use heliport. He accepts that private heliports are not right for Napa Valley and that there’s nothing more to discuss. He instead will continue flying his helicopter out of Napa County Airport, he said.

“I am all about the airport,” Palmaz said. “The airport is my home. I have to protect the airport now …. I am going to be a feature at Napa County Airport the rest of my life.”

If anything, the Airport Advisory Commission has an even lower profile than the Airport Land Use Commission.

The Airport Advisory Commission advises the Board on airport policies at the county-owned Napa County Airport. It has seven members from the general public, one representative each from the Napa Chamber of Commerce, the Napa Airport Pilots Association and a local commercial aviation operator and a Planning Commission liaison.

Supervisors are asking the Airport Advisory Commission to choose its top three candidates among the 13 applicants for the Airport Land Use Commission. Supervisor Belia Ramos said she wants to use of advisory commissioners’ expertise.

“That is, in fact, why we have them,” Ramos said. “We do not know it all here.”

Supervisor Diane Dillon stressed that the Board is asking the Airport Advisory Commission for recommendations only. The Board will decide which of the 13 candidates is most qualified.

The 13 candidates are Palmaz, Kirsten Bartok Touw, Thomas Benvenuto, Michael Harms, John Kingery, Charles Koch, Stephen Kreps, Bruce McLean, Yuka Moore, Earle Presten, Michael Rupprecht, Alan Shepp and David Timm.