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Tom Stockwell, CALISTOGAN  

It was 38 degrees when the Kaiser Permanente Napa Valley Marathon began near Rosedale Road on the Silverado Trail in Calistoga in early March of 2017.

Proposed Napa VINE bus yard moving ahead near planned south county resort

A proposed $31.6 million VINE bus maintenance yard and the yet-to-be-built Montalcino resort will apparently end up as airport industrial park neighbors, with the resort muting its objections.

Montalcino resort representatives a year ago expressed concerns about the Napa Valley Transportation Authority’s plans to build the adjacent bus yard. They worried about future guests putting up with fumes and noise from more than 80 buses making the yard a home base.

The NVTA Board of Directors on Jan. 17 certified the environmental impact report for the planned bus yard on 8 acres at Sheehy Court. It also approved the project. Nobody from the public came to the microphone to speak against the moves.

Officials from Montalcino – also known as The Resort at Napa—went further than refraining from verbal, public remarks. They also didn’t submit a letter during the draft environmental impact report comment period.

Napa County Supervisor and NVTA Board Member Belia Ramos said Monday she contacted the resort representatives to find out their latest position.

“At the present time, they don’t have any outstanding concerns with the project,” Ramos said. “They want to be at the table talking about how the Vine Trail gets accommodated at that segment, which, of course, is in everybody’s best interest to accommodate that trail.”

Attorney Kevin Teague, who has represented the resort in the past, couldn’t be reached for comment on Thursday and Friday.

NVTA Executive Director Kate Miller said she hasn’t heard from the resort in recent months. The bus yard project could break ground later this year or the beginning of next year and will take about a year to build, she said.

Montalcino is to be a resort hotel with 379 rooms and suites on 72 acres next to the bus yard site. It could possibly have a golf course and driving range on an additional 233 acres that is owned by Napa Sanitation District, the bus yard environmental report said.

The report concluded that the proposed bus yard will not conflict with planned development on neighboring properties.

For example, noise from buses and a bus wash facility would not exceed county noise standards at the proposed hotel site, the report said. The bus yard would be designed to minimize the amount of times buses back up and use their back-up beepers.

On a non-resort note, Garrett Allen of the California Department of Fish and Wildlife wrote to the NVTA with concerns about the bus yard project developing Swainson’s hawk foraging habitat. A like amount of foraging habitat needs to be preserved for projects within one mile of an active nest.

But the NVTA responded that Fish and Wildlife standards are different when a project involves fewer than 5 acres of foraging habitat and is infill. Then mitigation is required when a nest is within a quarter mile of the project. The bus yard will disturb 4.88 acres of the 8-acre infill site and no nest is within the quarter-mile limit.

The environmental report found one significant impact that can’t be compensated for – the cumulative loss of raptor foraging habitat when combined with other development in the airport industrial area. The NVTA Board voted that the benefits of the bus yard outweigh the habitat loss.

Benefits include having room for a bigger bus fleet to better serve residents, providing a bus wash so the fleet is consistently cleaned and having space to properly maintain the buses and minimize breakdowns, an NVTA report said.

The NVTA presently has its VINE bus yard on 2 acres at Jackson Street and Soscol Avenue in the city of Napa. NVTA officials say the site is too small. The Sheehy Court yard is to have seven bus repair bays, a bus washer, tire storage, a body-and-paint shop, an office and bus parking spaces.

Conserv gas station in Napa to be torn down, then re-emerge larger

A service station will disappear from one of Napa’s busier crossroads – only for a larger fuel and snack stop to take its place.

The Conserv Fuel at Jefferson Street and Pueblo Avenue will be demolished to make way for a new six-pump station, accompanied by a convenience store eight times larger than the existing concrete-block shop. Napa’s city Planning Commission on Thursday accepted site and sign plans for the rebuilt gas stop, although the land-use authority held off on approving the design in hopes of reducing the height of its building and canopy.

The teardown and rebuilding is meant to bring the style and function of the Conserv stop in line with more modern fuel stations around Napa. In addition to a new canopy and pumps, food and drink sales will move to a 2,592-square-foot building faced in stucco and stone, with a glassy main entrance facing Jefferson Street. Two ground-mounted signs, one each on Pueblo and Jefferson, will display prices and replace the existing pole-mounted marker.

Drivers pulling in to refuel also would have more room to maneuver, using an extra 3,600 square feet of land Conserv is buying from the owner of a Burger King restaurant directly north, according to Mark McIlvain, a Sacramento architect.

Plans filed with the city show the addition of wide-bladed fescue grass and various plantings to be added to the site, which is currently nearly bare of vegetation. A flagpole facing the northwest corner of the Jefferson-Pueblo crossing would stay in place.

Although the new-look gas station met mostly with approval from commissioners, they did not immediately give their go-ahead to break ground. Instead, they asked McIlvain to lower the height of the fuel-tank canopy and reduce the pitch of the convenience store’s peaked roof – or even flatten it completely – despite what Brian Mercer, a Conserv operations manager, called an effort to standardize the pointed roof at its 18 California stations.

The debate echoed earlier struggles over how far chain businesses must go to change or reshape their storefront templates to meet Napa design standards – a conflict symbolized by the city’s rejection in 2014 of a by-the-book, blue-and-white Honda showroom on Soscol Avenue in favor of a more “Napa-esque” stucco and brick envelope.

“We went through this before with the Honda (showroom), with Toyota, with the McDonald’s on Jefferson Street,” recalled Commissioner Gordon Huether. “As much as I appreciate this corporate (directive) that their stores all look alike, that, personally, is exactly what I don’t want.”

Once a final design is accepted by city staff, replacement of the Conserv station is expected to take five to six months, according to Mercer.

Upvalley police, Family Centers team up on youth diversion program for St. Helena and Calistoga

ST. HELENA — An intervention program for young first-time offenders has returned to the Upvalley, based on the idea that it’s better to set kids straight than to lock them up.

Stephany Ortiz is in her fifth month as youth diversion officer for St. Helena and Calistoga, the product of a partnership between the UpValley Family Centers and the two cities’ police departments. Currently, Ortiz is handling 20 cases – 11 in Calistoga and nine in St. Helena. Most kids are 15 or older, but a few are 13 or 14.

The program is offered as an alternative to the juvenile court system for first-time offenders caught committing crimes like petty theft or vandalism. If teens can stick with the terms of their contract, repair any damage they’ve done, meet regularly with Ortiz, perform 40 hours of community service, and stay out of trouble, they can complete the program, avoiding prosecution and a possible stay at Juvenile Hall.

The program is similar to the one previously run by Heather Baker at the Boys & Girls Clubs of St. Helena and Calistoga. Her position was eliminated last May when the two police departments ended their partnership with the Boys & Girls Clubs, citing concerns about oversight and compliance with new state laws involving youth marijuana counseling.

The police departments invited the UpValley Family Centers to submit a proposal to coordinate a new program. The nonprofit’s involvement in the anti-drug Upvalley Partnership for Youth, the Calistoga Community Schools Initiative, the CLARO and CLARA programs, and connections with other service providers made it a natural fit for the youth diversion program, said Jenny Ocon, executive director.

“We’re learning as we’re going, but we already had established partnerships with the police and the schools that have made it pretty seamless,” Ocon said.

The two police departments still split the cost of the youth diversion program. St. Helena Police Chief Bill Imboden said he prefers the new program because he and Calistoga Police Chief Mitch Celaya are more in tune with what Ortiz is doing, whereas there was “a little bit of a disconnect” with the previous program.

Imboden said the new program also meets the requirements of Proposition 64, which mandates specific training, counseling and community service involving youth and marijuana.

Ortiz lives in Fairfield and graduated from Dominican University in 2016 with a degree in psychology and a minor in Spanish and Latin American studies. She wanted to do something involving social work and youth, and she said the job of youth diversion officer was a good fit.

Ortiz spends her time at the two Family Center offices, at the two police departments, and at the two public high schools and Robert Louis Stevenson Middle School. She’s happy with the way the program has run so far. In one case, a youth-oriented nonprofit where a teenage girl has been performing community service has been so impressed that they’re hoping to hire her to a regular job.

Youth can enter the diversion program only through a police referral, but the Family Centers have additional staff who can offer help with troubled youth, Ocon said.

If you’re concerned about a youth, or if you have an idea for a community service opportunity, call 963-1919.

Jesse Duarte, Star 

Stephany Ortiz

Committee skeptical of cost estimates for St. Helena's public buildings

ST. HELENA — The committee charged with analyzing St. Helena’s public facilities got their first look at a consultant’s report on Jan. 17 and were already skeptical of one of its most important findings: the cost of repairing and rebuilding the city’s aging facilities.

Some members of the St. Helena Assets Planning Engagement (SHAPE) Committee warned that consultants were underestimating local construction costs, which will be a crucial factor as the committee investigates how the city can make better use of its buildings and whether any should be remodeled, rebuilt from the ground up, or relocated.

Consultant Matt Anderson of EMG said his team estimated the cost of replacing the current 11,411-square-foot City Hall/police station, which is severely dilapidated and outdated, at $3.25 million, or $285 per square foot.

That estimate is based on a national construction index, plus a 21 percent premium for the additional cost of building in Napa County. Anderson said the estimate is a “raw building cost” that doesn’t include city staff time to manage construction or interest on any bonds or loans the city might use to finance construction. The report is still in draft form and subject to change.

Committee Chair Mark Smithers, a winery CFO, said he’s “written a lot of checks” for local construction projects and believes the cost estimates for repairing buildings are much too low.

“We need to go into this with eyes wide open,” he said, suggesting that the consultants’ estimate of $750 for replacing a window should be closer to $2,000.

Since contractors in the area are all busy rebuilding in the aftermath of last year’s fires, “we’re going to be paying through the nose,” Smithers said. Even under normal circumstances, construction costs in St. Helena tend to be higher than in the city of Napa, so basing costs on the Napa County average could produce inaccurate estimates, he added.

“I would take a really hard look at those numbers,” Smithers said. “We do not want to understate what those are. Just ballparking it, I think they’re 50 percent higher than the numbers we have in front of us.”

Committee member Oliver Caldwell, who spent millions of dollars to seismically retrofit the old Star building, was also skeptical. He said a prominent Bay Area construction firm gave him an informal estimate of $6.5 million for a new City Hall two years ago, when Caldwell was investigating the city’s options.

Pat Dell also questioned the $285 figure, saying it could be “drastically lower” than actual construction costs. She said local residential construction costs are closer to $500 per square foot.

Anderson said commercial construction tends to be cheaper than residential. But City Manager Mark Prestwich noted that since City Halls and police stations are considered “essential services facilities,” they must meet higher building standards, which makes them more expensive to build than typical commercial buildings. Public projects also have to meet prevailing wage requirements, he said.

Prestwich said another consultant, Kosmont Companies, will meet with the committee at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 7, at Vintage Hall, to talk about asset strategy, which includes potential costs and funding options for new and improved buildings.

“This is a review of a draft document,” Prestwich said. “I think there are other factors that have been referenced that can be applied to this. This conversation is a good one.”

The city will never be able to estimate actual construction costs down to the dollar, Prestwich said.

“This is really an order of magnitude exercise,” he said. “But we do want to be as accurate as possible.”