If you think of approving the Napa Pipe project as landing a jumbo jet, the Napa County Board of Supervisors are heading toward the runway, but decided Tuesday to take one more pass before trying to touch down.
The supervisors voted unanimously to wait two more weeks to review the project’s request for General Plan and zoning amendments, and to give more time for the service and annexation negotiations between the county and the city of Napa to play out. They’ll take up the project again at their next meeting June 4.
Approving the amendments would be a major hurdle leading to the construction of a mixed-use project of up to 945 homes, a Costco store, a school, and retail, commercial and office spaces.
The supervisors have hinged their approval on successful negotiations with the city, and county Planning Director Hillary Gitelman said Tuesday that each side is in substantial agreement.
One to two more meetings are needed to clinch the deal, Gitelman said. Major features of a deal between the city and the county would include the city providing services such as police, fire and water — as well as potentially annexing the site in exchange for a revenue sharing agreement with the county.
No city officials spoke at Tuesday’s meeting, which was held at the Napa Valley Opera House. The city proposed its terms for the agreement May 16, and the county responded Tuesday.
“We are at the 95-percent part of things,” Supervisor Diane Dillon said. “We’re really close. We aren’t there yet. I want people to understand the devil’s in the details.”
According to a memo from Gitelman to the board, the county still wants to nail down its ability to issue residential building permits for the project, while both sides are still grappling with establishing a timeline for the project’s construction.
The county wants to spell out what “reasonable and adequate opportunities for the city to review and comment” means for the project’s design guidelines, development plans and development agreement, according to the memo.
In a related matter, the memo said the city supports moving the jail out of downtown, and will supply water to the new facility, but the county needs that assurance included in the Napa Pipe agreement.
The city wants the county to make payments from its housing trust fund toward the construction of affordable housing within city limits. The county feels that including this in the agreement would constrain its use of those funds, according to the memo.
If the agreement is sealed, the city is agreeing to take on 80 percent of the county’s housing allocation from 2022 to at least 2058, and needs those funds to help with that.
The city is still withholding any commitment to providing its water supplies to the project, but has established that as a goal in culminating the negotiations, Gitelman said.
Tuesday’s meeting at the Opera House started off with Gitelman’s comments, and, similar to past meetings on Napa Pipe, was followed by dozens of comments from residents in the audience.
Eve Kahn, chairwoman of Get a Grip on Growth, said she believes the market-rate units at Napa Pipe won’t be affordable for many residents, that it will strain the availability of city resources in other areas, such as a new fire station serving Browns Valley, and the city won’t have much influence on the project’s development.
“We as a county and as a community can and should have done better,” Kahn said.
A majority of the speakers favored the project, however, with some joking about how much a trip to Costco can cost them, even with its low prices.
“I went to Costco one time for oatmeal raisin cookies and it cost me $288,” joked Napa resident Jack Gray, to laughter and applause. “I guess I’ll save on gas.”
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But Gray also said that the project is ready for approval. “I think Napa Pipe has come to the point where it makes sense for Napa,” he said.
Sandy Elles, executive director of the Napa County Farm Bureau, disagreed with Gray. She said her organization was still concerned that the developers would try to use the groundwater beneath the site as a fall-back option if the city withholds its water. The developers could ask the county to allow groundwater use as a “conjunctive use” with surface water, but Elles wanted that possibility dashed.
“It could be a win-win, but we are still concerned about the protection of groundwater,” Elles said. “We remain concerned about the board taking further action. Caution and a conservative approach is certainly called for.”
Napa resident Bruce Young echoed Gray in supporting Napa Pipe.
“You guys have been pushing a rock up the hill for a long time, and I think you’re at the top of the hill,” Young said.
A coalition of union workers raised some environmental concerns with the project moving forward as planned, though.
Ellen Trescott, a lawyer with Adams Broadwell Joseph & Cardozo in Sacramento, requested the county delay its approval so another environmental impact report could be prepared. Trescott argued that’s warranted because Napa Pipe’s EIR analyzed a much larger version of the project, when it was proposed to be 2,500 homes. The developers shrunk it to up to 945 homes last June.
“You can only stretch an EIR so far,” Trescott said. “Don’t hastily approve this project without covering your legal bases under CEQA,” she said, referring to the state’s environmental law.
Trescott said she represents the Napa Coalition for Responsible Development, which is identified as consisting of Napa County residents Brett Risley, David Dias and Dan Huss, as well as the Sheet Metal Workers Local 104, Plumbers and Steamfitters Local 343, and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 180, and other residents.
After the meeting, Trescott said the group has not yet considered the possibility of filing a legal challenge to Napa Pipe under the California Environmental Quality Act.
Gitelman dismissed the group’s contentions, citing a response letter written by Whit Manley, a lawyer working with the developers behind Napa Pipe. Manley argued that the project’s shrinkage after rounds of public input and comment in the EIR process is “an inevitable — indeed, desirable — aspect of the CEQA process.”
“CEQA is intended to inform public decisionmaking,” Manley wrote. “It is not designed to condemn projects to endless rounds of review.”
Gitelman offered her assurances that approving Napa Pipe would not mean rate hikes to city water customers, or customers of the Napa Sanitation District.
Larry Florin, the county’s director of Housing and Intergovernmental Affairs, said 190 units at Napa Pipe would be deed-restricted as affordable housing, and the county’s workforce proximity housing program would assist buyers in purchasing other units.
Supervisor Dillon expressed concern about the possibility of a homeowners’ association having to pay for infrastructure and other costs associated with developing the project. She said paying for an association would drive up the cost of living at Napa Pipe, and prevent local residents from affording it.
Gitelman said the county and the city both want proof that the project can be built without subsidies and public financing, and wouldn’t approve permits and the next stages of the project unless the developers can provide that proof.
Gitelman said she believed the project was ready for a vote Tuesday, but Supervisor Brad Wagenknecht and other members of the board disagreed.
“We’re making a big commitment,” Wagenknecht said. “If it takes looking over it one more time ... that’s worthwhile. We’ve come so far in this project. I feel so good at where we are.”