The city of Napa says Pacific Gas and Electric owes it tax revenues that were lost as a result of the October 2017 wildfires that harmed local wine and tourism industries.
The fires, which burned for days, damaged some surrounding vineyards and depressed the tourism economy, the city wrote in a civil lawsuit filed last month in the Napa County Superior Court. Fewer tourists visited the area and hotel tax revenues dropped, the lawsuit said.
The North Bay fires also affected natural resources, damaged public lands and infrastructure, forced the city to pay for emergency management personnel, skewed economic development and more, the lawsuit says.
The civil suit was stalled when PG&E filed for bankruptcy a week after the city filed its lawsuit. The county’s civil suit has stalled for the same reason.
City attorney David Jones says Napa is still pushing for an unspecified amount of money, but in bankruptcy court.
“We are pursuing a full recovery on behalf of the city and taxpayer,” Jones said.
PG&E said in an emailed statement that it was aware of the filing and would continue to help North Bay customers recover and rebuild. The utility’s top priority is safety, it wrote.
City attorneys teamed up with lawyers from Texas-based law firm Baron & Budd and San Diego-based law firm Dixon Diab & Chambers, which are representing other North Bay public entities including Napa County, Sonoma County and Santa Rosa, Jones said.
The wildfires did not touch the city of Napa, but still affected the city, he said.
The North Bay Fires began on the night of Oct. 8, 2017 when high winds caused PG&E power lines to burn, fall down and ignite fires on nearby vegetation, the lawsuit says. At least 44 people died, 245,000 acres were charred and more than 14,700 homes were wrecked.
Cal Fire issued a report last summer that blamed a dozen of the October wildfires on trees falling on PG&E lines and other utility failures. The Atlas and Partrick fires in Napa County were among those tied to PG&E.
In January, however, Cal Fire said privately owned electrical equipment, not PG&E lines, were responsible for the most destructive of the blazes, the Tubbs Fire, which started outside Calistoga and ravaged parts of Santa Rosa.
Napa County hotel and lodging properties lost a total of $17 million in revenue over the past several months as a result of the October wildfires, Visit Napa Valley reported. The city benefits from hotel taxes and sales tax spending by visitors.
Lawyers argue PG&E knew its vegetation management programs were ineffective, equipment was unsafe and infrastructure was aging in the decades prior to the fires.
In addition to seeking an unspecified amount of money, the city also wants PG&E to repair damaged property and pay its legal fees.
The makeover of Main Street between Second and Third streets roared into high gear this week, with workers ripping out the old sidewalk in front of the row of restaurants facing Veterans Memorial Park.
Over the next three months, the block will be reconfigured into a more pedestrian-friendly thoroughfare, with the sidewalk doubled in width to accommodate outdoor dining. The city hopes to accomplish the bulk of the work by mid-March so the street can be reopened to traffic. Businesses remain open during construction.
Napa plans to spend $1.7 million on the block’s reconstruction. Besides getting a wider sidewalk, the street’s “hump” will be eliminated, creating a level pass-through.
The street is often closed for special events centered at Veterans Memorial Park, with food vendors setting up on Main Street.
Street parking is being eliminated — a total of 17 spaces — which will require some motorists to park farther away. A truck loading zone will be built in the center of the street to serve the adjacent businesses.
Craig Smith, executive director of the Napa Downtown Association, said the reconfigured block will be a good thing for the central business district. “It will create a place where people want to be,” he said.
One of the project’s novel features will be the “pedestrian scramble” at the intersection of Main and Second. Traffic signals will turn red at the same time, allowing pedestrians to cross the intersection in any direction while vehicles are stopped.
To ease traffic congestion, left-turn lanes will be built at both Main and Second and at Main and Third.
Napa’s Borreo Building may soon bear the name and symbol of the craft brewery that has brought life back to the 19th-century downtown landmark.
Stone Brewing, the San Diego-area beer maker that last year opened a brewery and restaurant inside the long-dormant structure at Soscol Avenue and Third Street, is preparing signage to adorn the stone walls that date to 1877. The labeling would take the form of laser-cut black steel forming the beer maker’s name on two sides of the Borreo – as well as Stone’s distinctive, twin-horned gargoyle mascot facing the Napa River and downtown district.
On Thursday, the Planning Commission received an up-close look at the labeling designed for the Borreo’s west and south walls. But uncertainty over the proper size of such signage on one of Napa’s oldest buildings led the city’s land-use authority to push its decision back to March 21.
The opening of the Stone gastropub in May 2018 brought back to the public eye an Italian Renaissance-style landmark that housed a feed store, shirt factory, winery and Oldsmobile dealership over the generations, but had been vacant since 2001. However, the stonework has remained unlabeled through the first nine months of its latest beer-and-food iteration.
Escondido-based Stone Brewing filed plans to install the company name on the sides facing west toward downtown and south toward Third Street, near the east pier of the Napa River bridge. The larger letters spelling out “STONE” would be 42 inches high on the south wall, and 36 inches high on the west wall’s north end.
At the west wall’s south end would be installed Stone’s symbol, a horned face with pointed ears that in the company’s original application would be about 10 feet in diameter.
The signage would be equipped – with the possible exception of the gargoyle – with light-emitting diode (LED) backlighting to create a halo-like nighttime effect, according to architect Sarah Marshall of Napa Design Partners. “We opted for something that would be simple and conducive to letting the building still be a beautiful stone building,” she told commissioners, pointing to the gargoyle logo’s skeletal construction that would allow the stone construction to show through.
However, the size of labeling on the side most visible from central Napa drew caution from city planning staff, who called for downsizing the signage to comply with the sign-coverage limits that were in effect when Stone gained its permits. (In December, the City Council passed a new sign code that dropped the old limit of 10 percent coverage of a façade.) A staff report filed last week recommended allowing the brewpub only a 4-foot-wide logo and a letter height of 24 inches, the maximum allowed by the city’s old law.
Such standards, however, seemed inflexible to commissioners who pointed at the distance from the Borreo to passers-by on the opposite bank of the river. “If I can’t even read the letters, then why put it out there?” said Paul Kelley after seeing drawings of how the smaller labeling would appear on the west wall.
“You have to look at the distance, at the viewpoint,” added Michael Murray. “Make it too small and they don’t exist, because you can’t see them.”
Commissioners edged toward compromising on the size of the water-facing displays, pondering an 8-foot-wide logo and 30-inch characters, but ultimately postponed their vote a month to allow Stone to prepare new renderings.
A program to sample and test water running toward Napa’s main city reservoir is taking shape as the county takes comments on the environmental impact of a 34-acre vineyard proposed for woodlands near Angwin.
The proposal from the developer of Le Colline, a vineyard project outside the Linda Falls nature preserve, would include paying for samples to be taken from Conn Creek upstream and downstream of the site starting when construction begins, and for two years after all plantings and other work are complete.
Napa also would retain the right to enter sampling sites for long-term monitoring of erosion and agricultural runoff that could affect water quality at Lake Hennessey, the city’s largest local water source.
Conn Creek flows southeast from the project site to Lake Hennessey, which supplies more than 84,000 people within and near Napa’s city limits.
Thomas Adams, representative for the site owner David DiCesaris, filed the water testing plan in a Feb. 13 letter to the county revising the vineyard proposal. The City Council voted Tuesday to acknowledge the change, while also seeking to assure that city staff or a third party will perform the sampling and analysis.
“This is a beginning conversation on how we protect our watershed,” said Mayor Jill Techel, speaking for a council that also sought the county’s assurance it would tie a water monitoring mandate to the property even if Le Colline is later sold.
A testing agreement would fill what city leaders had called a gap in the environmental vetting of Le Colline, whose creation would remove 24.5 acres of forests and 9 acres of grassland in the watershed surrounding Lake Hennessey.
A draft environmental impact report sponsored by Napa County listed no red flags for the project at 300 Cold Springs Road, and stated all potential vineyard impacts could be rendered “less than significant” with the proper design. Nonetheless, the city since 2015 has sought water quality analyses during the rainy months to monitor the levels of runoff, pesticides, herbicides, fertilizer and other solids in the waterway leading toward the city’s largest reservoir.
Under the proposal, samples would be collected from Conn Creek within 48 hours of the first significant rainfall of the Napa Valley wet season between Oct. 1 and April 30. Samples also would be taken within 48 hours of other “major” storms, defined as at least 1 inch of precipitation over 24 hours, as well as once every two months between Dec. 1 and May 1.
Despite such terms, Kellie Anderson of the Linda Falls Alliance, which advocates for the protection of the Angwin preserve, described the water monitoring plan from Le Colline as “frail” protection and predicted the vineyard’s recontouring of woodland and creation of retention ponds would make the degradation of the watershed almost inevitable.
“This is paper mitigation,” she told council members. “This document is full of paper mitigation that will protect you and your constituents not.”
The vineyard conversion also has drawn the attention of the Napa Open Space District because of its placement next to the Linda Falls refuge, which harbors 132 native plant species and a 31-foot waterfall over volcanic rock.
Although district policy prevents it from directly intervening in growth debates, the agency approved a letter earlier this month seeking the preservation of larger habitat areas rather than narrow fingers of land.
“The project as proposed does not from our perspective strike the best balance and thus has adverse impacts that could be avoided if the project were redesigned,” the Open Space District wrote.
Napa County has extended the deadline for public comments on Le Colline’s draft environmental study six days, to 5 p.m. Monday.
Comments may be mailed, emailed or hand-delivered from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays to Supervising Planner Brian Bordona at Napa County Planning, Building and Environmental Services at 1195 Third St., Napa, CA 94559, email@example.com, 707-259-5935.