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City-wide survey says housing is Napa’s number one issue
Quality of Life

City-wide survey says housing is Napa’s number one issue

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City residents say lowering the cost of living, specifically housing, should be a top priority for local government, according to an extensive poll conducted at the end of last year.

Additional priorities include reducing traffic congestion, controlling growth and development, protecting the environment and repairing sidewalks and streets.

Napans lauded public safety organizations like the fire and police departments.

Nearly half the respondents said Napa is “on the wrong track,” and roughly 20 percent voiced concern that the City Council works more for tourists than it does for locals.

“We’re accused of only providing things for the tourist-based economy. So let’s think about how we can highlight all the work we do for locals,” said Councilman Scott Sedgley at last Tuesday’s City Council planning retreat, where survey results were a centerpiece of conversations around goal-setting and priorities for the upcoming year.

The City of Napa issued the Community Climate Survey in November, and contracted it out to a third-party research firm to conduct the questionnaire. Pollsters reached out to a sampling of local voters online and by landline and cellphone. This year’s survey had 300 people reply, and the firm said the group met the proportions necessary to reflect the “demographic composition of Napa voters.”

Housing

Living in Napa has become increasingly expensive in recent years. According to a Bay Area Markets Report study from January, the median sale price for a house in Napa County was roughly $710,000 last year. In the City of Napa, that number was a notch lower at $705,000, nearly double what it was in 2012.

This is a challenging situation locally, but it’s not necessarily something that can just be solved at the city level, said Lark Ferrell, housing manager for the City of Napa. “It’s such a huge problem, and it’s not something government can solve by itself. There’s more we need from the federal and state levels to be able to address it.”

Rising prices impacts the homeless population – of which there are an estimated 310 people in the city based on last year’s annual point-in-time count – as well as Napa’s middle class that’s being squeezed out of the housing market as it gets more expensive to live here.

In California, affordable housing is generally targeted towards families and individuals with incomes of 60 percent or less of the state’s median income, according to the California Housing Consortium. However, as Ferrell points out, in areas like Napa or the Bay Area more generally, people earning double that – or 120 percent of median income – can’t necessarily afford houses on the ordinary market.

The disconnect between pricing and wage means City Council has to work to simultaneously increase affordable housing units and figure out ways to increase the supply of housing in order to naturally drive market prices down.

Ferrell says city efforts to achieve these dual goals include a focus on accessory dwelling units, leveraging existing vacant property to build affordable housing like Manzanita, which will break ground in a few months and supporting last year’s one percent increase to the “hotel tax,” the earnings of which go directly to affordable and workforce housing.

“It’s a challenging situation, but I know the community seems to be very engaged in helping us to work on options and solutions,” Ferrell said.

Traffic, streets, sidewalks and parks

Roadway improvements have been top of mind recently given the newly opened roundabouts and directional flip on First and Second streets. But the survey shows that concerns began before and go beyond this project.

Roughly 58 percent of people said they were unsatisfied with the quality of local streets. This statistic is down from last year, when dissatisfaction reached its five-year peak at nearly 64 percent. And just under one-third of residents said they believe the quality of roads has continued to decline over the past several years.

Public Works Director Julie Lucido recognizes traffic and roads remain primary public complaints, but does point to the “robust” paving program of the last 10 years, the continuing increase in Napa’s pavement condition index – a way to rate street quality – and the new addition of Measure T dollars to direct towards major street improvements as reasons to trust the department is working hard to address concerns.

Sidewalks particularly upset residents, which Lucido acknowledges. “We have a number of damaged sidewalks, and that’s an understatement. We’re focusing more resources and efforts there, but they do take quite a bit of time to repair, and it’s a slow process,” she said.

Traffic congestion was the second most important issue for respondents.

“We’re putting resources, time and energy into synchronizing several of our key corridors,” Lucido said, calling it a council priority to limit slowdowns. “We’re also working to provide projects and infrastructure that support pedestrians and bicycle traffic, so were looking at it very holistically.”

Regarding the disconnect between city efforts and public perception, Lucido said “there’s more we can do from the public works department, but just continuing this improvement will start to catch up over time. More people will begin to feel it.”

The survey also indicated a 25-point drop in satisfaction with Napa’s park and recreation facilities in the last three years. Only 55 percent of people said they are happy with the current state. This change in public sentiment comes amidst the debate around Measure K, the countywide resolution on the ballot in March that would add a one-quarter cent sales tax to protect water, parks, and open space.

City Council has yet to take an official stance on the measure.

Public safety

Overwhelming majorities approved of the work of Napa’s fire and police departments. But the two chiefs did call the council’s attention to staffing shortages they believe will plague them moving forward and could potentially compromise their ability to maintain security given Napa’s rapidly rising profile.

“We aren’t equipped to handle the big events that are coming to Napa like BottleRock, Festival of Lights and Blues, Brews and BBQ,” Police Chief Robert Plummer told the council last Tuesday.

Almost everyone said they feel safe walking alone during the day, and a significant majority said they feel safe doing so when it’s dark.

Communication

In addition to their feelings on services and infrastructure, polled residents were asked about communication from local government, an area where satisfaction has plummeted since 2015, according to the report. Then, 77 percent of respondents said they were pleased with the efforts of city government and staff. This year, just 44 percent said they felt plugged into changes and developments in Napa.

Over half said they preferred social media as their primary source of information, and more than 60 percent said they hadn’t attended a City Council meeting in the last year.

Feel free to reach Carly Graf at @carlykgraf, cgraf@napanews.com or (713)-817-4692.

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City of Napa reporter

Carly Graf covers Napa city government and community issues. She received her master’s degree from Northwestern University in Chicago. She most recently worked for a news outlet in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

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