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American Canyon cement factory ruins

The old cement factory ruins will be converted into a new town center as part of the Watson Ranch development, which the American Canyon City Council approved Tuesday night. 

AMERICAN CANYON — Watson Ranch with its 1,253 homes and planned town center has been more than a dozen years in the making, leaving many residents wondering if the big day would ever come.

On Tuesday that day came. The largest, most ambitious development in city history was unanimously approved by the American Canyon City Council.

But Watson Ranch continued to get thumbs down from unions seeking a labor agreement on the project and additional city hoops must be jumped through before ground is broken.

The City Council voted 5-0 for Watson Ranch’s Specific Plan, a master planning document that lays out the housing, commercial development and other key aspects of American Canyon’s largest-ever development proposal covering more than 300 acres.

They also certified the project’s environmental impact report, which has been the focus of late opposition from organized labor.

Lead developer Terrence McGrath told the City Council Tuesday that he has been negotiating with attorneys representing unions since June.

“Obviously, we don’t have an agreement,” said McGrath. “Things broke down somehow” and now “there’s mistrust on both sides.”

Collin McCarthy with the law firm Adams Broadwell Joseph & Cardozo reiterated demands made during the Planning Commission two weeks ago that the city not approve Watson Ranch until their concerns related to environmental impacts are addressed and the environmental report revised.

McCarthy’s firm represents a local group called American Canyon Residents for Responsible Development, consisting of local residents Joel Hernandez, Pamela Lewis and James Aken, plus the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 180, Plumbers & Steamfitters Local 343, and Sheet Metal Workers Local 104.

One union representative struck a more conciliatory and hopeful tone at the City Council meeting and outside of it.

Joe Shelfo with sheet metal workers told the council: “We’re not against this project.” He said he met with McGrath earlier that day and came away feeling “pretty good” about the discussion.

“We probably won’t get what each other wants,” Shelfo said outside the council chambers, “but I think we can come to an agreement.”

Later during the meeting, McGrath spoke again and expressed his appreciation to Shelfo for reaching out to him.

Council members said they were hopeful a labor deal would be reached eventually.

Residents have been excited about Watson Ranch largely due to its promise of giving American Canyon something it has never had: a town center.

Fran Lemos, who has lived in American Canyon since the 1940s, urged the council to green-light the project so it can become a reality before it’s too late for her.

“I want to see it before I go — please!” Lemos said.

She was joined by dozens of other residents and union members who spoke for and against Watson Ranch during the nearly four-hour hearing.

Located on the ruins of the old cement factory, the town center — formally known as the Napa Valley Ruins & Gardens — would consist of 176,000 square feet of retail, commercial, mixed use and office space.

It is expected to feature a wedding venue, event center, restaurants, pubs, wine tasting, brewery, amphitheater, food truck court, farmers market, and a 200-room boutique hotel.

Watson Ranch would also create 53 acres of parks, trails and open space, build a new elementary school for 600 students living in the new neighborhood and contribute money towards building a new middle school.

The new neighborhood would consist of 1,253 residential units projected to add 4,400 people to the city’s population of about 20,000.

Council members approved the environmental report and a Statement of Overriding Considerations required under state law when a development will generate negative impacts despite mitigation steps.

Watson Ranch, according to the environmental report, will have “significant unavoidable impacts” on air quality and greenhouse gas emissions, noise, and transportation and traffic.

The environmental report states the project “would contribute to unacceptable traffic operations” based on current road conditions plus new vehicle trips produced by Watson Ranch.

The report says it could generate 18,001 net daily vehicle trips, with 1,079 trips occurring during the morning peak period (7-9 a.m.), and 1,488 during the afternoon peak period.

To accommodate the increased traffic, the city plans to extend Rio Del Mar to the east, and connect Devlin Road with Green Island Road. Officials also intend to extend Newell Drive northward, allowing motorists to bypass Highway 29 through American Canyon.

Watson Ranch is projected to take eight years to complete during four phases.

McGrath expressed his gratitude to the council before they finally approved the project just before 11 p.m. He said during his 13 years working on Watson Ranch, the work and negotiations and delays sometimes “brought me to my knees.”

But he also said he was “crazy excited” to be standing there on the cusp of victory.

City Manager Jason Holley characterized the city’s approval of Watson Ranch as “a seminal moment for American Canyon.”

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American Canyon Eagle editor

Noel Brinkerhoff has been editor of the American Canyon Eagle since 2014. Prior to that he covered state politics in Sacramento for the California Journal.