Napa County supervisors are pondering whether the county can build a new government building in downtown Napa before aging air conditioning at the county’s downtown Carithers building expires.
Carithers is the former department store at 1127 First St. that houses about 160 employees. Replacing air conditioning there would require roof improvements because of heavier units and cost $6 million, county officials said.
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County supervisors balked at pouring $6 million into Carithers. An option is to build a new downtown government building near the Third Street county administration building.
Then Carithers, which occupies a prime location, could be sold for demolition and the site redeveloped. If the city of Napa chose to tear down the adjacent Second Street parking garage, a big chunk of downtown could be reshaped.
It could be a race. County officials said constructing a new downtown building on a fast track could take three to four years and cost $100 million to $165 million. Meanwhile, air conditioning at Carithers could conk out on a hot day — or not.
“I’m ready to take that risk and be ready to deal with what might come,” Supervisor Ryan Gregory said.
The Board of Supervisors on Tuesday agreed not to spend $6 million on a new heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) system for Carithers, at least not yet. Instead, the county will make contingency plans to deal with air conditioning failures while looking at the fast-track building option.
Contingency plans would be needed even if the county decided to buy new air conditioning today. Public Works Director Steven Lederer said that, with supply chain issues, a system couldn’t be installed for 18 months.
Carithers houses Child Support Services, the District Attorney’s Office, the Public Defender’s Office and the Assessor/Recorder’s Office.
The Board of Supervisors has yet to vote on a master plan for future county building needs. But staff has compiled scenarios based on recent supervisor comments.
Napa County could construct a new building on county-owned land near Third and Coombs streets. The two possible sites are the outdoor Sullivan parking lot or a smaller outdoor parking lot at the county jail.
A multi-story building could house the Carithers employees, plus have a new Board of Supervisors chamber and county executive office. One idea is to team up with the city of Napa to share the new building.
The county would keep its existing administration building, doing such things as expanding space for Planning, Building and Environmental Services and Public Works.
Napa County is also considering what to do with the downtown jail when the replacement jail opens in a couple of years along Highway 221. It might demolish the building so the property can be redeveloped with retail and housing.
Meanwhile, there is the problem with the Carithers air conditioning.
“We’re in a precarious position with this system… the units there are very old. They’ve been struggling for some time. We’ve been trying to hold them together,” Lederer said.
The county sprays mist on the air conditioning units to take pressure off the compressors when temperatures reach about 95 degrees. Otherwise, a compressor could blow up and no longer work.
“It would be a huge headache for staff to be faced with a failed HVAC system,” Supervisor Anne Cottrell said.
Interim County Executive Officer David Morrison noted there are six air conditioning units for six different zones in Carithers. If one failed, that means one area would be without air conditioning, not the entire building.
Portable units could be used. More people could work from home if the building is too uncomfortable, he said.
“While we do get very warm days here in Napa and had a couple last summer, it’s not like we have three months of them,” Morrison said. “These would probably be very limited duration events.”
It may also be that all the units continue to work for the next three years, he said.
All of this is a story to be continued.
Napa County is thinking about what to do with its downtown Napa properties, including the jail and a large outdoor parking lot.
Napa came from behind to defeat Convent of the Sacred Heart 8-7 in Girls lacrosse at Memorial Stadium in Napa on Wednesday, March 15.
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It was late Friday morning when muddy, brown water started rushing onto Michelle Hackett’s Salinas Valley farms.
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On one side of her family’s Riverview Farms cannabis business, a county-mandated retention pond overflowed. Next door, a farm abandoned by another grower — one of dozens of cannabis businesses to shut down in Monterey County in recent years — spawned another small river headed straight for Hackett and her skeleton crew.
“The water completely stopped and backed up,” Hackett said. “I thought, ‘Holy (expletive), this is going to flood our greenhouses.’”
Cannabis businesses like Hackett’s — along with thousands of undocumented farmworkers and the area’s unhoused residents — fear they’ll be left to fend for themselves as yet another winter storm batters California’s Central Coast, local officials and advocates say.
Undocumented workers and cannabis businesses are, by law, ineligible for federally funded programs such as unemployment or aid from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Now — after days of wind and rain and a Pajaro River levee failure flooded the area, displacing hundreds of people in Monterey County alone — details are lacking about how state officials would respond to calls to direct state funds and other disaster relief to these communities in the region known as America’s salad bowl.
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California has stepped into the breach before, offering some support to undocumented workers during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, and to some cannabis farmers whose crops were damaged in wildfires.
It’s an issue complicated by competing political priorities and a projected $24 billion state budget deficit for the coming fiscal year.
While touring flooded regions, including the inundated farmworker town of Pajaro, Gov. Gavin Newsom said that $42 million is available from the United Way for emergency payments to farmworkers, regardless of immigration status. He said the nonprofit will start sending out $600 checks as requested.
“Those dollars will start going out today,” Newsom said. The funds come from a grant announced in October by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to provide economic relief to farmworkers and their families.
He noted that undocumented workers typically are ineligible for federal aid because they are in California without federal authorization. Newsom voiced appreciation for the nonprofits that have stepped in to fill the gaps.
“There are a lot of people here that are not immediately eligible for assistance, folks out here that we’re very mindful of,” he said. “There’s not a state in America … that does more for farmworkers than the state of California. And we don’t do enough.”
The governor said officials are working to assess damage and update the state of emergency designations — an essential step to attracting more government dollars to the recovery effort.
Long before the storm, the federal government and California had been planning a levee improvement project for the region. It is expected to take five to seven years, but Newsom said Wednesday he is urging the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to speed up their timeline and to put higher priority on levy projects affecting vulnerable, low-income communities.
The governor did not provide details about how the state might help cannabis farms, which also are ineligible for federal funds.
As Newsom planned his visit, many officials and advocates said they hope to hear how the state will help. A few lawmakers said they’re exploring legislative options.
“I think we need to step up our efforts to help those who are undocumented and can’t earn a paycheck because of the current rains and floods,” said Assemblymember Miguel Santiago, a Democrat representing Los Angeles.
He is co-sponsoring Senate Bill 227 to provide unemployment benefits to undocumented Californians. About 6 in 10 farmworkers are not eligible for unemployment benefits, according to studies.
Santiago said the current situation is frustrating because he has advocated for years for more safety net programs that could have helped families hurt by the flooding. If such legislation was in place, he said, “we’d be able to have a place where we could go get people some financial relief.”
Assemblymember Robert Rivas of Salinas, chosen by his fellow Democrats to be the next Assembly Speaker, noted in a statement to CalMatters that undocumented workers typically don’t qualify for federal assistance funds for emergency housing, home repairs, personal property loss, funeral expenses and other aid.
“My office, in collaboration with other legislative offices, is exploring immediate legislative and budget action to provide relief for these vulnerable communities,” Rivas said, noting that the workers also had been ineligible for many COVID-19 relief programs.
The state began filling some of that gap during the pandemic. Undocumented workers were eligible for $1,700 in state funds: a $500 COVID-19 Disaster Relief prepaid card and $1,200 from the Golden State Stimulus Fund.
Tuesday afternoon, groups of people remained in tents along the flooded Pajaro River. Despite large federal and state housing budgets, many of those people don’t have homes.
Many farmworker families in the flooded region are undocumented, from indigenous groups, and don’t speak either English or Spanish well, said Eloy Ortiz, a board member for the Watsonville-based Center for Farmworker Families.
That complicates attempts to apply for assistance on behalf of the legal residents in their household. Some were rejected when they applied for aid in January, Ortiz said.
“The folks who have been flooded out, if it were a normal year, they’d be starting to go back to the fields to work right now,” Ortiz said. “And now they will probably not be able to go back for months.”
More than 20,000 acres of agricultural land in Monterey County will likely sit fallow because of stormwater contamination, noted Monterey County Supervisor Luis Alejo, a former Assembly member from Watsonville, in a tweet.
“These are low-income Latino families, and the start of the harvest season for strawberries, raspberries and other crops is in March. Now farmworkers will be out of work,” he wrote Tuesday.
“I urge our state leaders to provide aid in the state budget for undocumented flood victims who do not qualify for FEMA assistance & additional relief for farmworkers who will be out of work due to flooded ag fields and not qualifying for unemployment insurance,” he wrote.
“The financial pain they will face will be severe & prolonged!”
As many as 8,500 people were under flood evacuation warnings in Monterey County over the weekend. The California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services reported more than 300 people had stayed in five shelters across Santa Cruz and Monterey counties Monday night, the vast majority taking shelter at the Santa Cruz County Fairgrounds.
In Salinas, Hackett, 32, said her choice was simple as the storm bore down: save herself, or say goodbye to a crop that has already weathered a steep drop in prices and other industry pressures. At least 56 cannabis businesses have closed in Monterey County in recent years, according to a recent estimate.
As the water rose Friday morning, Hackett and her team that normally would be busy trimming plants or readying retail products instead shut down early to reinforce storm ditches and forge cement slabs into an impromptu flood wall.
On Tuesday, as another storm knocked out power at her two adjacent 10-acre farms, Hackett said she is unaware of any aid available for cannabis businesses impacted by flooding.
“Ideally if we were any other business, we would have immediately had help,” Hackett said. “Whether it be the county, whether it be the state — someone needs to be held accountable.”
Longer term, Hackett said she fears climate change and economic obstacles will point her industry toward the same downward trajectory that wiped out many of the flower growers who once thrived in the same Monterey County greenhouses.
She isn’t alone in her frustrations.
Joey Espinoza, a Salinas-raised cannabis compliance consultant, said several of his clients were directly impacted by floodwaters, including one grower who had to evacuate plants from a flooded greenhouse. Even while the ground was still muddy, he said, many cannabis farmers have turned their attention to other pressing challenges in the industry.
As cannabis remains illegal at the national level, Espinoza said, local growers shut out of federal financial aid are now confronting storm damage after a collapse in cannabis prices and while facing a tight deadline to apply for new state licenses by the end of the year.
Industry advocates say the economic turmoil stems from a mix of overproduction of legal and illegal cannabis, as well as ever-changing taxes and regulations.
“There’s layers of issues with all of this,” Espinoza said. “And the thing to remember is, there’s not gonna be a lot of relief for cannabis in terms of FEMA and things like that.”
It was unclear exactly what the state might do.
The California Department of Cannabis Control told CalMatters that, under current state law, cannabis businesses impacted by disasters may apply for temporary waivers of license requirements if they become unable to meet regulatory requirements. State licensing rules govern everything from sometimes-costly infrastructure requirements to the way products are transported and secured.
“All requests are reviewed on a case-by-case basis and aim to provide regulatory relief to licensees for impacts related to issues including flooding,” said David Hafner, a department spokesperson.
In the past the department has offered support for cannabis growers impacted by wildfires.
Few lawmakers voiced ideas.
In the meantime, some residents took matters into their own hands.
Gabino Orozco Avila was getting ready to serve dinner to neighbors gathered on a walkway above the rushing Pajaro River late Tuesday afternoon, a stone’s throw from his daughter’s home in Pajaro. While his daughter remained evacuated, Avila, owner of a longtime food business, Tacos Los Jacona — a nod to his Michoacán hometown — had prepared carne asada, rice and beans for the community that had long supported him.
“Now that people need me,” he said in Spanish, “I’ll be here.”
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ST. HELENA — Napa's producers are moving their sustainable farming practices in the right direction, a leading climate activist and marine biologist told vintners and grapegrowers at a conference earlier this week.
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“We know what it’s like to get it wrong. We have all of this media and press about apocalyptic outcomes. But we also have literally hundreds of solutions,” said Ayana Elizabeth Johnson, the co-founder of the Urban Research Lab.
In a wide-ranging discussion that focused on climate equity, local government policies and ocean health, Johnson said that while Napa's wine-industry is generally moving in the right direction with environmental initiatives and clean farming, it is important to keep up the momentum.
She spoke with Andrew Isaacs, a professor of tech innovation and climate strategy at UC Berkeley, as part of “Ahead of the Curve” a biannual conference hosted by the Napa Valley Grapegrowers focused on scientific-based solutions to the industry's climate issues.
"The climate problem is a good problem for the Napa community to be addressing because there’s a strong sense of community (here)..." he said. “There is a lot of trading of resources.”
While the climate woes front of mind in the region usually relate to drought and wildfire, Johnson said that the impact of sustainable farming practices on the ocean also needs to be discussed.
“I think we don’t have enough respect for coastal ecosystems that help to protect us from storms," she said. "The mangroves, the seagrasses, the coral reefs, the wetlands, those are physical buffers from the impacts of storm surge, helping us deal with sea level rise and they also can absorb three or even five times more carbon per acre than a forest on land, than a tropical forest.”
Johnson said she deeply respects how people in agriculture have always "been really creative problem solvers." But Napa Valley farmers may need to pivot to growing different, more drought-tolerant varietals, and growing farther north.
“This is the reality that we face, which is — for many of you who have been growing here for generations — it's heartbreaking. But the world is changing at such a clip that it's time to start thinking about how we adapt, and not just how we prevent the world from changing,” she said.
But whatever is planted, what goes into the ground may also find its way into the ocean.
“Anything that you put on or in your soils is going to end up affecting coastal and marine ecosystems," said Johnson. "So eliminating the use of pesticides is a really important thing to do, or phase those out as much as you can, and thinking about how we are preventing erosion and minimizing and being really specific in our uses of fertilizer, because when those excess nutrients run off into coastal ecosystems, they can cause algae blooms and all sorts of disruptions."
And while she mentioned plenty of concerning statistics regarding the current trajectory of our oceans, Johnson closed on a positive note.
“How could anyone give up on this magnificent planet and all of the other people and creatures that we get to share it with? I mean, what a magnificent opportunity to be able to protect the things and the people we love.”
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The city of Napa’s process of updating its traffic calming guidelines — and, in theory, empowering residents to identify the need for engineered traffic solutions to Napa’s residential streets, and have them be built — continues to slowly roll forward.
And the complaints about the presence of speeding traffic in Napa’s neighborhoods, which helped inspire the update, haven’t slowed down.
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A second round of community workshops, geared to both present the city’s progress on the new guidelines — an update on 2005 guidelines that brought about very few projects — and collect public input, started up this week, with hour-and-a-half virtual meetings held on Wednesday and Thursday night. And one more meeting, the only in-person meeting of the workshops so far, is slated for Wednesday next week, from 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. in the Napa City Hall council chambers.
The recent meetings built upon information from the first round of five virtual workshops held late last year, which largely involved city staff and consultants sharing basic information about traffic calming and how the plan would move forward before transitioning to community member input sessions.
This time around, city staff and consultants shared information about a potential application process and traffic calming toolbox — intended to help residents choose which measure would be appropriate for their particular problem.
Ruta Jariwala, a consultant working for TJKM, introduced the proposed tool box of traffic calming measures at both meetings the week. The city is proposing the measures be categorized into three tiers, Jariwala said, with the tiers aligned with the difficulty of engineering analysis and design considerations.
“That will help the community to select the right, or appropriate, measure to address their safety or other concerns that they might have within the community,” Jariwala said.
The proposed tier one, for example, would be for measures with lower implementation costs — speed legends and signage, speed dots, high visibility crosswalk, and targeted location speed enforcements.
Tier two would include measures such as angled parking, dynamic speed feedback signs and rectangular rapid flashing beacons, Jariwala said.
Under the same assumptions, tier three would then include measures such as speed cushions, traffic circles, pedestrian refuge islands, raised intersections and crosswalks, and single-lane roundabouts.
Lorien Clark, the city’s transportation planner, also went on to talk about what evaluation criteria for potential traffic calming projects are currently being considered. Clark said the draft list includes elements such as how fast people drive at the location, how many cars and trucks use the roadway, if there’s a history of collisions there, and how close the area is to schools and other facilities where large numbers of pedestrians and bicyclists go.
Those criteria would be used during the city’s draft traffic calming application process, which Clark said currently involves six steps: application, evaluation, notification, support, prioritization and implementation.
In essence that means a resident would need to first submit an application requesting a traffic calming solution, then city staff would evaluate the application using the aforementioned criteria, to determine if traffic calming is appropriate. If it is, the city would then notify the resident and give them instructions for next steps.
The resident would then be required to collect supporting signatures from other residents in the neighborhood and submit them to the city, Clark said. The city will then prioritize applications that have made it to that stage based on available funding. Then, if there’s funding, the city would carry through with implementing the traffic calming solution, according to Clark.
As in past meetings, public comments on the process included observations from local residents about traffic conditions they’d observed around the city.
For example, Wayne Panchesson, executive director of the Meadows of Napa Valley retirement community, noted at the Wednesday meeting that the community — which is right near the dead southern end of South Jefferson Street — had seen an increase of speeding on both South Jefferson and Atrium Parkway. For that reason, Panchesson said he liked the education methods being proposed in the toolbox.
“We don’t want a tragedy here in our neighborhood with the residents who live here, our elderly residents,” Panchesson said. “They move slow and we have younger folks who live across the way at Sheveland Ranch, and, you know, I think it’s all about time management for them, they’re in a hurry to get out and get to work, and so they’re flying down South Jefferson and flying down Atrium Parkway.”
Other commenters made suggestions. Kara Vernor, executive director of the Napa County Bicycle Coalition, suggested a few more traffic measures that could be considered for inclusion in the toolbox, including preventing right turns on red lights and bike lanes.
“I don’t know if I remember seeing anything that specifically talked about narrowing lanes, and of course bike lanes can be traffic calming because they can narrow travel lanes, bike lanes with buffers, etcetera,” Vernor said.
At the Thursday meeting, Maureen Trippe, a co-founder of Slow Down Napa — a movement specifically about slowing down speeding traffic in residential neighborhoods — said she thought speed humps and cushions should be placed at a higher priority, and that the draft application process needs to be fleshed out further.
Trippe — and others — also called on the city to speed the process up, or for the Public Works Department to try and some of the budget in the city’s upcoming budget process allocated to projects.
Julie Lucido, director of the public works department, said the department wanted to make sure they got the plan right.
“I’m totally with you that it needs more information, we’re just not there yet,” Lucido said. "That will be part of the next workshops. We aren’t able to accelerate this work product and be confident we’ll get it right.”
The next set of workshops is tentatively set for the summer, according to Lucido, and the department is expecting the update to go before the Napa City Council for approval sometime this year.
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