The Napa Valley escaped major flooding Tuesday night as the Napa River hit its plateau in the Upvalley and began receding at dawn Wednesday, county officials reported.
The river in the city of Napa went over flood stage at 11 p.m.,and seemingly had peaked at 7 a.m. without causing any serious damage. A torrent of water was running through the Oxbow Flood Bypass, diverting flows that otherwise would have spilled into business and residential areas.
“The flood project is doing what it’s supposed to be doing,” county Public Works Director Steve Lederer.
“Around the county, a lot of small stuff — trees down, a lot of small slides,” Lederer said at 7:30 a.m. “Hopefully nothing that will be permanent damage.”
The city had issued a warning Tuesday night, asking residents in low-lying areas to be on alert in case the river rose higher than had been predicted.
As it turned out, the river peaked nearly a foot below the prediction and no additional community warnings were necessary.
As the storm faded Wednesday, the Napa Valley looked back on some impressive rainfall totals since Monday morning. Mount Veeder recorded 12.5 inches and Angwin 10.7 inches. Totals on the lower elevations were substantially less, with the center of Napa reporting 3.6 inches. Gauges around St. Helena had registered between 6.6 and 7.9 inches of rain.
Napa County issued a long list of road closures throughout Wednesday, including stretches of Silverado Trail in the early morning. Motorists reported the slow lanes on Highway 29 south of Yountville closed due to water on the roadway, which tied up the morning commute.
By early Wednesday afternoon, the closure list had shrunk to Silverado Trail from Zinfandel Lane to Pope Street due to a fallen tree, Yountville Cross Road from Finnell Road to Silverado Trail, Oakville Cross Road from Napa River to Silverado Trail, Ragatz Lane, Wall Road at Dry Creek, Washington Street south of Yountville, Solano Avenue from Hoffman to Napa city limits and Conn Valley Road at Rossi Road.
When water got into an underground electrical vault on the 4400 block of Dumas Street in northwest Napa, approximately 4,600 PG&E customers lost their power at 6:20 p.m. Tuesday. Most of them had their electricity restored within 20 minutes, the utility reported.
Another 330 customers were without power Wednesday morning in Pope Valley due to a tree falling onto a power line around 7:15 p.m. on Pope Valley Road.
In St. Helena, a tree fell onto a power line on Silverado Trail at 10:30 p.m. Tuesday, impacting approximately 1,850 customers in the Upvalley. Power wasn’t expected to be fully restored until 5 p.m. Wednesday.
Rick Thomasser of the county’s Flood Control District said the $400 million flood project proved its worth Tuesday night, with both the river south of Lincoln Avenue and Napa Creek staying within their banks.
But for the flood bypass, flood walls, channel terracing and bridges that were elevated over the past 20 years, muddy water would have been flowing through Napa Valley Expo, down Soscol Avenue’s Auto Row and into homes in the Behrens Street neighborhood, he said.
The RiverPointe Napa Valley resort on the north side of Lincoln Avenue at the Napa River did flood, but the tourist trailers had been driven to higher ground in advance, Thomasser said.
“We’re feeling fortunate,” he said Wednesday afternoon after surveying the storm’s impacts. “I’ve heard horror going on in Guerneville and that area (in Sonoma County).”
Water was expected to flow through the downtown bypass until late Wednesday night as the river level slowly drops.
Register reporters Courtney Teague and Howard Yune contributed to this report.
Some people who realize an officer has caught them using their cellphone while driving try to get slick.
There’s the phone dropper, said Sgt. Kris Jenny of the Napa Police Department’s traffic division, and there’s the person who tries to act like they were itching their head instead of holding a phone to their ear.
Others are oblivious — especially of officers who pull up in a vehicle other than a traditional, black-and-white cop car, he said.
They might be on Facebook, snapping selfies or steering with their knee while taking pictures of their view, Jenny said.
A new state study found that drivers’ cellphone use appears to be slightly less frequent than it was a few years ago, but Jenny is skeptical that people have kicked or will kick the habit. Kids have an even stronger connection to their devices than adults, he said.
“In my opinion, it’s remained the same,” Jenny said. “It’s a habit that they weren’t willing to change.”
Researchers at California State University Fresno examined drivers at 204 locations across 17 counties, statewide.
They found that 4.5 percent of drivers were observed using their phones last year, which was slightly higher than the 3.6 percent of drivers observed doing so in 2017. Still, 2018 drivers appeared to use their phones less frequently than the 7.6 percent of drivers seen using their phones in 2016, a year before the most recent cellphone law went into effect, according to an Office of Traffic Safety press release.
State law dictates that drivers cannot hold their phones, and must touch their phones only with the swipe or tap of a finger to activate or deactivate a function, according to the traffic safety office. The phone must be mounted to the dashboard.
In 2018, Napa police ticketed 405 drivers for using their phone while driving and 504 for texting while driving.
First-time offenders are fined $162 and at least $285 for a second offense.
Still, it can be difficult to prove a driver was using their phone if they won’t admit it and there were no witnesses. Officers can obtain a warrant to check someone’s phone and see what they were doing at the time of an incident, Jenny said.
But even though Napa’s top collision factors are drunk driving, speeding or failing to yield, phone use can have deadly consequences.
In 2011, 18-year-old Dayton William Lane Moore was killed when his Toyota Highlander veered off the side of Highway 29, struck a metal streetlight, then crashed into a tree and fence near the intersection of Sierra Avenue.
It was determined that he was texting at the time, said Officer Aaron Medina.
Research shows that looking at phones significantly increases the likelihood of a crash or collision. Medina pointed to a first-of-its kind study in 2014 that found that the effect of texting on the brain can last beyond the time the phone user is texting.
A Louisiana State University researcher found drivers’ performance was significantly altered for more than 3 seconds after texting. The amount of time doesn’t matter whether it be texting or talking, which did not have the same effect. Texting for two seconds or two minutes are just as likely to result in a collision..
Law enforcement has long known that phone use can hinder a person’s ability to drive safely. Officers looking for drunk drivers sometimes pull over a sober person who was using their phone instead, Jenny said.
The telltale signs of distracted driving?
Abrupt braking and corrections, a head turned down, a face illuminated at night or a left hand on the steering wheel, since most drivers are right-handed, Jenny said.
He suggested drivers who find themselves distracted while looking for directions install a smartphone app such as Waze, which can guide a driver without their input.
But none of this may matter if drivers aren’t afraid of the consequences.
Jenny pointed to an April enforcement operation of distracted driving laws in which police stopped a total of 74 drivers, pedestrians and bicyclists and issued 50 citations in total. The operation was announced in advance on social media and through the news media.
To his surprise, Jenny learned that people knew about the crackdown but didn’t seem to care.
“It was not just like two or three people” who heard about the operation in advance, he said. “It was the majority of people that we cited.”
A summer-long steeping in all things wine industry is open again to high schoolers from Napa to Calistoga.
Fields of Opportunity, a partnership between the Napa Valley Unified School District and the Napa Valley Grapegrowers, will again take high school students from both the city of Napa and Upvalley through the ins and outs of the largest industry in their backyards.
In years past, high school interns, who are paid a starting wage, have blasted barrels, managed cover crops, had a hand in hospitality and sales, and even witnessed drones at work in the vineyards. Former interns have credited the program with sending them down the path toward careers in agriculture.
Ericka Madrigal, who interned in the summer of 2018, volunteered for the Napa Valley Grapegrowers’ Pruning Contest earlier this month. Now a senior at Napa High, Madrigal told the Grapegrowers she had applied to the agricultural business program at Fresno State after her rotation for the internship last summer at Napa Wine Company.
“It was a behind-the-scenes rotation that covered HR, compliance and business administration,” Madrigal told the group. “After working at Napa Wine Company, I could see my future in the grapegrowing industry.”
As of this week, plans are for Napa Wine Company to return as a host company, joined so far this year by V. Sattui winery and Piña Vineyard Management, with more companies expected to come.
Kendall Hoxsey–Onysko of Napa Wine Company told the Napa Valley Grapegrowers, “Youth is where we are going to find the people of tomorrow. They are the minds that will bring forth new opportunities, ideas, and solutions to the Napa’s wine industry.”
Instead of rotating between four different companies for the program’s eight weeks, as in years prior, students this summer will trade off between only two companies, each for four weeks.
“We really wanted them to be able to form deeper connections with their mentors and their peers that they were working with,” said Amber Cleveland, work-based learning coordinator at NVUSD.
Organizers last year brought on a job coach who met periodically with students to work on soft skills like work readiness and how to navigate Napa’s public transportation to get to the job. This year, in addition to the job coach, organizers plan to bring in advisers to add topics like financial literacy to the summer’s curriculum.
As for the county’s other staple industry, a counterpart program to Fields of Opportunity is also returning to take students through eight weeks of rotating roles in the world of Napa hospitality.
Five hotels, up from two last year, will serve as the training grounds for students for this year’s Resorting to Opportunity program, including Meritage Resort and Spa, Vista Collina, Silverado Resort and Spa, Carneros Resort and Spa, Hilton Garden Inn and Embassy Suites.
Organizers are also hoping to more than double participation, opening the internships to 27 students, up from 12 last year. The program opened to applications last Friday, while Fields of Opportunity began taking applicants this month.
Although created in part as an answer to the ongoing labor shortages within the local wine and hospitality industries, Fields of Opportunity began as a special education program, before expanding to all learners, said Stephanie Solberg, vocational specialist with NVUSD.
Stressing the programs’ emphasis on its inclusive roots, Solberg said, “When we’re speaking to the employers, we’re very aware of their labor needs. So we want to kind of preface their participation with the expectation that this is a mentorship, not just a job fair.”
“We expect this to be inclusive of all students, those with special needs, those that are coming from at risk or underserved populations,” Solberg added. “So while they’re interviewing our students, it’s not just the best interviewer that should be selected; we’d like to see a cross-selection of ability and interview success.”