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Lindsay Upson 

Chalkboard art at Pizzeria Tra Vigne in St. Helena. 


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Election 2018
Liz Alessio, Mary Luros sworn in as newest Napa City Council members

The two newest members of the Napa City Council spent months promising to uphold the needs of the whole community. The road to their goal began at noon Monday, before a capacity audience at their new workplace.

Amid cheers and applause from more than 100 relatives, friends and well-wishers, Liz Alessio and Mary Luros were sworn into office at a City Hall ceremony, 27 days after scoring the top two vote counts in the council election. They replace three-term Councilmember Peter Mott, who finished fifth in the Nov. 6 race, and Jim Krider, a 2017 appointee who declined to appear on the ballot.

“There’s so much to do and this is such an exciting time,” said Luros, who previously was appointed to the council in 2015 and served for 22 months. “I’m eager to get to work, and work to make this the special community it can be.”

“Wow. What a day, what a moment,” Alessio told the audience. “It’s humbling; it’s an incredible honor to serve Napa and serve its beautiful residents on the City Council. We have a lot of work ahead and I’m ready for that work – I feel like I was born for this work.”

After promising before City Clerk Dorothy Roberts to uphold city law and the federal and California constitutions, the new councilmembers turned toward the audience section, with Alessio embracing former Mayor Ed Henderson and Luros hugging her husband, Jason Luros. Then the women took their places on the dais, with Mott leaving his chair for Luros – who was defeated in her first council campaign in 2016 – and Krider making away for Alessio.

The moment did not pass without a touch of levity from Krider, who presented a symbolic gift to each new Napa council member – a can of worms, or more precisely, a steel can filled with gummy worms, one of which Alessio popped into her mouth to the audience’s chuckles.

Alessio, a former city parks commissioner and an organizer of the nonprofit Operation: With Love from Home, led the Napa field with 29.7 percent of the vote, according to updated election results published Thursday. Luros, a Napa attorney, garnered 24 percent.

Their first full slate of city business begins Tuesday when the Napa council will review plans for the Vista Grove housing development, which would feature 27 single-family homes plus 11 attached junior housing units. The project, which also would include plumbing connections to create five more so-called granny flats or second units, is an example of the denser housing construction increasingly favored by city officials as a way to protect some Napans from being priced out of the local market.

Alessio and Luros will begin taking on another of their key issues – the form and expense of Napa’s future civic center downtown – when the City Council gathers for a special meeting Dec. 11 about the project that would create a new home for city departments and police. In candidate debates and public forums, both women questioned the scale of the project and its potential cost, which has been estimated at $121 million including the cost of temporary office space during construction.


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Public Art
A well-traveled Huether sculpture finds a permanent home in Napa

An aluminum and glass statue titled “Silver Twist” will become the artistic centerpiece of a new residential neighborhood on Soscol Avenue.

The artwork was purchased and selected as the public art for the entrance to the Braydon apartment complex (formerly known as Vista Tulocay), a development of nine buildings containing 282 rental units on Soscol Avenue. The statue was made several years ago by Napa artist Gordon Huether.

The apartment development, located west of Soscol’s Auto Row, was originally owned by the Gasser Foundation and is now being developed by Fairfield Residential Company of San Diego. The Gasser Foundation is developing a large commercial project around the apartment complex.

“Joe Peatman at the Gasser foundation has been a friend, mentor and patron for many years,” said Huether. “I’m excited to see the Silver Twist sculpture be a gateway to Napa’s newest residential development.”

Peatman, president of the Gasser Foundation, said that a water tower was originally proposed for the roundabout. But after reviewing the idea, “it just didn’t look right.”

Peatman had remembered seeing the Silver Twist when it was on public display at several different areas in Napa Valley, including next to Angele Restaurant & Bar in Napa and in downtown Yountville.

“It’s remarkably attractive,” said Peatman. “So we bought it from Gordon and he’s installing it any day now.”

The work will be placed inside a roundabout near the middle of the project.

Huether said until Silver Twist was purchased by the Gasser Foundation, he had lent the piece to the city of Younvtille and to Harry Price, developer of the Napa Mill.

Gasser bought the statue for $150,000, said the artist. It stands about 14 feet tall and is made of stainless steel and dichroic glass.

Napa’s municipal code requires a piece of public art for commercial construction projects that cost more than $250,000. The cost of the art must be equal to at least 1 percent of the project’s construction costs.

Even though the city requires such an installation, “we like public art,” said Peatman.

As the saying goes: “Man doesn’t live by food alone,” he said.

During a September interview, Brendan Hayes, a representative of Fairfield Residential Company, said the company hopes to have apartment homes ready in 2019.

Fairfield bought the apartment project from BLT Enterprises in February 2017 for an estimated $34.25 million.


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Environment
Lawsuit against Syar quarry expansion in south Napa is progressing in court

A fight over expanding Syar quarry near the city of Napa is heating up in the courthouse two years after the Napa County Board of Supervisors approved the project.

The venue is different, but the players and concerns are familiar. Stop Syar Expansion on Nov. 16 filed a 50-page opening brief in Napa County Superior Court opposing a bigger quarry.

“The project would emit harmful particulate matter and greenhouse gases and increase heavy truck trips, water use, blasting, oak woodland deforestation and the cutting of steep benches into rolling hills,” the papers stated.

In 2016, Napa County looked at these issues in draft and final environmental impact reports totaling more than 1,600 pages. All concerns could be reduced to “less than significant levels,” the reports concluded and the Board of Supervisors agreed.

The Stop Syar Expansion lawsuit against the county argues otherwise. Just as during county hearings, opponents are raising such issues as cancer-causing diesel fumes and health-damaging respirable crystalized silica drifting from the quarry over neighborhoods.

“It requires the citizens to get involved and urge or force the county to be reasonable in its oversight of a major polluter,” said Kathy Felch, a member of Stop Syar Expansion who lives near the quarry.

In contrast, during the 2016 hearings Syar officials depicted the quarry as being “a responsible neighbor” with a “robust and effective compliance program.” Syar officials couldn’t be reached to comment on the lawsuit, which is against the county.

Napa County and Syar are to file their responses to the Stop Syar Expansion brief by Jan. 16. A hearing is scheduled for April 5. The court will decide whether the county’s environmental impact report is adequate or needs more work for the project approval to stand.

Syar quarry can be seen from south Napa in hills near Skyline Wilderness Park and Napa State Hospital. Various companies since the 1920s have mined this area for basalt and other rock for roads and construction projects.

The Board of Supervisors in October 2016 granted Syar a 35-year permit to expand the 497-acre quarry by 106 acres and increase production from 1 million tons annually to 1.3 million tons. Syar officials said the quarry needs to grow to avoid running out of basalt.

Among other things, the Stop Syar Expansion lawsuit claims that the county’s environmental impact report failed to disclose crystalline silica emissions at the Syar quarry. Rather, the report based its estimate on data from other quarries, the recently filed brief said.

Stop Syar Expansion versus the County of Napa is one of two court cases involving the group and the quarry.

In 2016, Stop Syar Expansion, Napa Vision 2050, Felch and Susanne Von Rosenberg filed a separate lawsuit against Syar Industries. It alleged a constant stream of dust, particulate matter, diesel engine exhaust and toxic contaminants from the quarry impact health, safety and property values in nearby neighborhoods.

Proposition 65 requires businesses that expose people to carcinogens to provide a warning, such as posting signs and distributing notices. Syar has failed to do so since at least Aug. 25, 2013, the lawsuit said.

The plaintiffs agreed last summer to dismiss their complaint. That came after they demanded information from data through the court discovery process.

“We realized after they had kept their production levels to such a low level they were not violating Proposition 65,” Felch said. “Our lawsuit was based on data they had provided for the EIR (environmental impact report).”

Syar submits its production levels to the county, but the county treats this data as proprietary information, Felch said. The public can’t review it.

“The only way we can know what the production levels are is to file a lawsuit,” Felch said, adding this is not a good way for citizens to monitor what’s going on at the quarry. Stop Syar Expansion could file a another lawsuit if new facts arise indicating the quarry is violating Proposition 65 in the future, she said.

That dismissed Proposition 65 lawsuit came with a potentially expensive footnote for the plaintiffs.

During the legal wrangling, Felch, Vision 2050 President Dan Mufson and others were ordered by the court to provide years of their emails and correspondences involving Syar at Syar’s request. Syar was to pay the cost for Robert Half Legal to screen the voluminous materials, with plaintiffs saying the bill comes to $65,000.

But the plaintiffs subsequently reached and signed agreements with Syar to dismiss the case. Those agreements call for Syar to pay each plaintiff $5,000 in satisfaction of damages, penalties, costs, expenses, interest and attorney’s fees.

Napa County Superior Court concluded the plaintiffs in these release agreements waived their right to recover costs from Syar for the use of Robert Half Legal.

“In attempt to show that a decision against them would be unjust, the plaintiffs assert they do not deserve to be financially punished because they worked with Robert Half Legal as directed by court order,” the court wrote. “But the assertion ignores the plain language of the release.”

That won’t be the final word. The plaintiffs have appealed this part of the case to the First District Court of Appeal.

“It’s a huge bill for unnecessary work that we said all along is irrelevant,” Felch said.