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Wine Industry
Reducing booms from Napa County vineyard propane cannons remains work in progress
  • Updated

Some residents still say that propane cannons in vineyards make too much noise, but there are fewer complaints being lodged with Napa County since the county passed standards in 2019.

The “booms” from the cannons in some south Napa County vineyards during the growing season are supposed to keep birds from feasting on valuable wine grapes. They also bother some residents.

“There comes a point where it's a quality-of-life issue here that is happening,” said county Supervisor Belia Ramos, who lives in American Canyon.

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Propane cannons are used mostly in south county vineyards near wetlands that are home to many birds. Some residents in American Canyon and other south county locations have said they can hear the booms from miles away during the summer and early fall, going off every few seconds.

The Napa County Board of Supervisors on April 20 heard an update on propane cannons for the first time since passing the standards. Among other things, the county in 2019 limited cannon use to largely the daylight hours and for limited amounts of time.

Agricultural Commissioner Tracy Cleveland said a falling number of complaints indicates the 2019 standards are working.

In 2018, various county departments received 18 complaints related to propane cannon noise. Since the county enacted the standards, it received four complaints in 2019 and 12 in 2020, a county report said.

The Sheriff’s Office has also received these type of complaints, the report said, but the report didn't say how many.

Those 2020 complaints included some about cannons being fired at night, Cleveland said. Her office worked with the grower responsible for the nighttime blasts and found the blasts were inadvertent, with the cause being faulty remote wiring.

“The overnight one is one that drives people crazy,” said Supervisor Brad Wagenknecht, who represents the Carneros area.

Ramos said that something changed acoustically over the last two years. Noise from bird cannons that previously reached only some parts of American Canyon began extending into other parts.

“I heard it last year from my bedroom for the first time,” Ramos said.

Using propane cannons isn’t the best form of bird mitigation, given it is expensive and time-consuming, Ramos said. Her father grows grapes in the south county and doesn’t use cannons.

“I don’t see this issue going away,” Ramos said. “I have already received preemptory complaints for this growing season.”

She suggested exploring “more creative and workable solutions” to keep birds away from grapes, whether it’s netting or shiny streamers.

Greg Ames is among the American Canyon residents who in 2019 asked the county to do something about the propane cannon noise. He has since moved from the area.

"I will tell you that last year, there were still lots of propane cannons," Ames said on Thursday by phone. "They were not following the rules on time frames."

When supervisors passed the standards in 2019, Wagenknecht said that 99% of farmers used good sense in how they deploy propane cannons. The standards are for those who don't.

Cleveland said her office each year does permit renewals with growers and talks to growers about the county’s propane cannon standards. It follows up on complaints. It has inspectors in the field who listen for cannons.

In addition, she mentioned plans for county staff to start going out in early morning and late evenings and on weekends to make sure the county's propane cannon standards are being followed.

Board of Supervisors Chairperson Alfredo Pedroza said he supports protecting the quality of life for residents. He also said Napa County is an agrarian county and must protect the ability of people to do agriculture.

That leaves the county trying to strike a balance.

“That’s the trade-off people make when they decide to make Napa home,” Pedroza said.

Catch up on Napa County's top news stories
Photos: Faces and Places, April 25

Beware Napa speeders: science students are watching
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Seated in chairs placed a safe distance from the roadway, the group of Silverado Middle School students on Thursday aimed their smartphones at the cars passing the school.

They were looking to catch speeders. But not to give tickets. These science students were capturing the seconds it took cars to travel between two points. From there, they calculated the miles per hour for each vehicle. 

It’s all part of a “speed lab” study the students are working on in 8th grade science, explained teacher Dan Skadal.

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“This is for our unit on motion,” said Skadal. “It’s gonna be a challenge,” he said, seeing as about half the class was meeting in person and the other half via Zoom. “But they’re up for the challenge.”

At the roadside of Coombsville Road, Skadal placed his laptop on a stool so the “Zoomers” could still see the “Roomers” conducting the experiment in person. 

As cars passed, Skadal called out alerts for the students to stop and start video and start and stop timing. They followed along, filling out their worksheets to record the kind of car, distance and time.

“Lexus!” called out Skadal.


“White van!”


“Here comes a fast one,” Skadal said.

Signs at the school note a 25 mph speed limit, but many vehicles seemed to be going quite a bit faster.

Kashin Adams, 8th grader, said the Speed Lab was one of the first projects he’s been able to do outside this year. “If I was at home on Zoom, it wouldn’t be as much fun.”

“It’s easier to learn in person,” said Cassidy Jones, also an 8th grader. “It’s fun” to see the reactions of the drivers once they notice kids recording them during the Speed Lab, she said.

“I want to catch a fast car,” she added.

Eighth grade student Natalie Ball said she also prefers attending school on campus. “You get to be more focused,” she said. “Half the kids are probably sleeping right now,” she said referring to those who continue distance learning.

It’s important to get outside the classroom and do hands-on activities in person, said Skadal. Kids learn more effectively that way, he said. Of course, it’s difficult when some of the students are learning remotely. “I’m hoping my Zoomers are actually getting something from this,” he said.

After the speed lab, the students will make a Google slide presentation with the data that they gathered.

With just minutes left in 3rd period, the students picked up their chairs and walked back to the classroom.

Skadal continued to interact to his Zoomers, asking about their data and what they had been able to gather on their end.

"Were you able to do some timing or video?" he asked the Zoomers. 

“Good job today,” Skadal told the class. “I’m glad you were able to persevere.”

Photos: Napa middle school students conduct "speed lab" science project
Catch up on Napa County's top news stories

Official: FDA to OK vaccine for 12-year-olds
  • Updated

WASHINGTON — The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is expected to authorize Pfizer's COVID-19 vaccine for children ages 12 and older by next week, according to a federal official and a person familiar with the process, setting up shots for many before the beginning of the next school year.

The announcement is set to come barely a month after the company found that its shot, which is already authorized for those ages 16 and older, also provided protection for the younger group.

The federal official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to preview the FDA's action, said the agency was expected to expand its emergency use authorization for Pfizer's two-dose vaccine by early next week, and perhaps even sooner. The person familiar with the process, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal matters, confirmed the timeline and added that it is expected that the FDA will approve Pfizer’s use by even younger children sometime this fall.

The FDA action will be followed by a meeting of a federal vaccine advisory committee to discuss whether to recommend the shot for 12- to 15-year-olds. Shots could begin after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention adopts the committee’s recommendation. Those steps could be completed in a matter of days.

The New York Times first reported on the expected timing for the authorization.

Meanwhile, air travel in the U.S. hit its highest mark since COVID-19 took hold more than 13 months ago, while European Union officials are proposing to ease restrictions on visitors to the continent as the vaccine sends new cases and deaths tumbling in more affluent countries.

The improving picture in many places contrasts with the worsening disaster in India.

In the U.S., the average number of new cases per day fell below 50,000 for the first time since October. And nearly 1.67 million people were screened at U.S. airport checkpoints on Sunday, according to the Transportation Security Administration, the highest number since mid-March of last year.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed legislation giving him sweeping powers to invalidate local emergency measures put in place during the outbreak. While the law doesn’t go into effect until July, the Republican governor said he will issue an executive order to more quickly get rid of local mask mandates.

“I think this creates a structure that’s going to be a little bit more respectful, I think, of people’s businesses, jobs, schools and personal freedom," he said.

Las Vegas is bustling again after casino capacity limits were raised Saturday to 80% and person-to-person distancing was dropped to 3 feet. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced that New York City’s subways will begin running all night again and capacity restrictions on most businesses will end statewide in mid-May.

And Los Angeles County reported no coronavirus deaths on Sunday and Monday, some of which may be attributable to a lag in reporting but was nevertheless a hopeful sign that could move the county to allow an increase in capacity at events and venues, and indoor-service at bars.

EU officials also announced a proposal Monday to relax restrictions on travel to the 27-nation bloc this summer, though the final decision is up to its member countries.

“Time to revive EU tourism industry and for cross-border friendships to rekindle — safely,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said. “We propose to welcome again vaccinated visitors and those from countries with a good health situation.”

In Greece, restaurants and cafes reopened their terraces on Monday after six months of shutdown, with customers flocking to soak up the sunshine. In France, high schools reopened and a ban on domestic travel was lifted.

The once hard-hit Czech Republic, where cases are now declining, announced it will allow people to remove face coverings at all outdoor spaces starting next Monday if they keep their distance from others.

But with more-contagious variants taking hold, efforts are underway to boost vaccination efforts, which have begun to lag. The average number of doses given per day fell 27% from a high of 3.26 million on April 11 to 2.37 million last Tuesday, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In Detroit, teams from the city’s health department have knocked on nearly 5,000 doors since the weekend to persuade people to get immunized. And Massachusetts' governor announced plans to close four of seven mass vaccination sites by the end of June in favor of a more targeted approach.

“My plea to everyone: Get vaccinated now, please," President Joe Biden said in Norfolk, Virginia. He stressed that he has worked hard to make sure there are more than 600 million doses of vaccine — enough for all Americans to get both doses.

“We’re going to increase that number across the board as well so we can also be helping other nations once we take care of all Americans," the president said.

Brazil, once the epicenter of the pandemic, has been overtaken by a surge in India that has overrun crematoriums and made it clear the p andemic is far from over.

As the U.S. and other countries rushed in aid, India reported nearly 370,000 new cases and more than 3,400 deaths Monday — numbers that experts believe are vast undercounts because of a widespread lack of testing and incomplete reporting.

In Germany, Bavarian officials canceled Oktoberfest for a second year in a row because of the safety risks. The beer-drinking festivities typically attract about 6 million visitors from around the world.

And in Italy, medical experts and politicians expressed concern about a possible spike in infections after tens of thousands of jubilant soccer fans converged on Milan’s main square Sunday to celebrate Inter Milan's league title.

Pandemic relief
More than 2 million Californians missing stimulus checks
  • Updated

Two weeks ago, a contingent of United Way staffers descended on tiny Tulelake, three miles south of the Oregon border in Siskiyou County. 

Ferrying laptops, printers, scanners and wireless hotspots to the area of the state where the highest concentration of people are missing their stimulus checks, they had one goal: help residents file tax returns so they can claim the latest round of $1,400 stimulus payments. 

There are 8.8 million Californians receiving state benefits who are eligible for stimulus checks, according to a study by the California Policy Lab, and more than 2 million of them don’t earn enough to need to file taxes. But without those filings, the IRS can’t reach them. 

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The United Way staffers were there to help bridge that divide — the so-called stimulus gap. They helped a few people on their day trip, but not as many as the nonprofit agency had hoped. 

Theresa McCausland, who operates eight programs among nine counties at the United Way of Northern California in Redding, understands her target population tends to be skeptical. “Anything that has to do with taxes or government is something they would prefer not to deal with,” McCausland said, “even if it means a few hundred or thousand dollars in their pocket.”

As the May 17 tax extension deadline nears, the California Policy Lab study identified at least 2.2 million low-income Californians in the stimulus gap who could miss out on $5.7 billion. The UC Berkeley researchers say at least 1.4 million within that group could miss all three rounds of stimulus checks, or as much as $3,200 per adult and an additional $2,500 per dependent.

The number of people in the stimulus gap is likely far more than 2.2 million since that’s what the researchers managed to count among missing tax returns for those enrolled to receive any state benefits from the Department of Social Services, such as CalWorks and CalFresh. And the study only counted people who have accessed state benefits, a number pre-pandemic research shows falls far below the total number of those actually eligible. It also doesn’t include additional money from California’s supplemental pandemic relief known as Golden State Stimulus checks. 

Risk of missing payments

The policy brief identified four types of Californians who tend to be at risk for missing payments: adults without dependents, dependents of undocumented residents who came of age in the latest stimulus round, Native Americans and rural residents in California’s northern and eastern counties.

McCausland’s team serves many who fall into those categories.

The communities of her nine-county region are tight-knit. Much of it is rural farmland or tourist draws among the lakes and astounding views, the population split nearly evenly between white residents and Latino residents, many of whom speak Spanish as a first language. 

The staff has Spanish, Hmong, Mandarin and American Sign Language interpreters on call. 

But their success in the northern counties is admittedly mixed for reasons McClausland says are largely out of their control, such as long routes to remote areas where residents might not have the money for gas or a ride, or fears among undocumented farm workers of contact with the federal government.   

Trust from the local community can be hard to come by. McCausland said the local resource centers have the connections to their local communities but scant money to help them; the United Way has laptops and hotspots and expertise, but transportation in and out of rural Tulelake can be tough for low-income residents to find. 

And the United Way’s tax assistance is relatively new to the region: The organization has been operating the IRS’s Volunteer Income Tax Assistance program for just four years in Tulelake. Before they arrived, McCausland said locals lost faith with the local community center’s ability to handle their taxes. 

“That’s been tough,” McCausland said. 

Ways to reach out

The good news, according to the California Policy Lab study, is 6.6 million Californians enrolled in state safety net programs and received about $18 billion in stimulus payments. 

“The folks that we have identified, they are connected to the state, the state knows who they are,” said the study’s co-author, Aparna Ramesh. “And so the upshot of that is, there are ways to reach out to them to help connect them to the resources they need in order to file a tax return  in order to get the money.”

The simplest way, Ramesh and her co-author argue in their analysis, is for the IRS to reopen their non-filers payment tool, first made public during the early days of the pandemic to get stimulus money to people who usually aren’t required to file taxes. But the IRS closed that program in November, and an IRS spokesman told CalMatters there are no plans to bring it back. 

The report also recommends that the IRS send unclaimed stimulus money to the states, which can then transfer the money to people who didn’t file their taxes but are on a state benefits program like CalWorks or CalFresh.  

“The real question, which no one knows, is ‘Who’s not connected to government benefits?’ ” Ramesh said. 

Anyone who has missed part or all of a stimulus payment can file for a recovery rebate credit with the IRS. It requires — of course — that recipients file a tax return.