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Farmworker Housing (copy)

Farmworkers sit outside one of the residence buildings at the River Ranch Farmworkers Housing Center in St Helena in 2015.

The 2017-18 Napa County Grand Jury wants a redoubled county Board of Supervisors effort to ensure an estimated 6,000 to 9,000 farmworkers who labor in the area’s vineyards have places to live.

First, determine what the needs are, the grand jury recommended in a new report. It doesn’t view the traditional picture of the migrant farmworker as meshing with anecdotal information it received during its investigation.

“The young, single, male migrant worker of yesterday is being replaced by an older workforce with families,” the report said. “Long-term and permanent employees are also more common. Women are now estimated to comprise as much as 30 percent or more of the vineyard workforce.”

The grand jury wants to go beyond the anecdotal. Do a study to find out such things as how many farmworkers are accompanied by families, how many are women and how many face housing needs in the Carneros region, the panel urged the Board of Supervisors.

Napa County did such a study in 2013. The grand jury sees that data as needing an update.

“Without accurate data and an analysis of projected demographic changes, the county cannot adequately address future farmworker housing needs,” said the grand jury report issued Friday.

The grand jury wants the county to go beyond analysis. With an updated picture of the situation, the Board of Supervisors working with appropriate stakeholders should complete a detailed action plan by June 30, 2019, the grand jury recommended.

County Supervisor Alfredo Pedroza said Friday he hadn’t yet read the grand jury report. He agreed with the concept that the Board of Supervisors should keep addressing the farmworker housing issue.

“The core industry we have, it starts with our farmworkers,” Pedroza said. “We need to make sure we’re taking care of them.”

Whether that means doing another study remains to be seen. Pedroza talked of working with the vineyard managers and grapegrowers who have firsthand knowledge of farmworker trends.

The county Board of Supervisors will issue official responses to the grand jury recommendations at a future meeting.

The Board of Supervisors has demonstrated an awareness of changing farmworker housing needs. On several occasions, supervisors have discussed the lack of family farmworker housing, though they have yet to settle on a course of action.

Steve Moulds is a local grapegrower, a member of the Napa Valley Grapegrowers executive committee and a member of the Napa County Housing Commission. These various roles give him a perspective on the farmworker housing issue.

Napa County relies on farmworkers who are here full-time and permanently, Moulds said. He would like to see these farmworkers and their families have access to housing scattered throughout local neighborhoods, as opposed to being concentrated in one place.

“We need to have them incorporated throughout the community so we don’t have a separate living style for farmworkers,” Moulds said.

Among other things, the grand jury in its report looks at the present-day farmworker housing situation.

Napa County has teamed up with the wine industry for about 15 years to fund and operate the Calistoga, Mondavi and River Ranch farmworker centers in Napa Valley. These centers serve that older picture of the migrant farmworker who is a male and here without a family. They each house 60 men in dormitory-style settings.

Moulds doesn’t see the three centers as being enough to meet today’s more diverse needs.

“It is very evident to me and all who look at it that, as wonderful as our three centers are, the dormitory housing for men only is an antiquated model,” Moulds said.

In addition, some wineries provide private farmworker housing. Those with more than five beds are regulated by the state. Five wineries fall into this category and provide a total of 104 beds. They are Yount Mill Vineyards, York Creek Vineyards, Caymus Vineyards, Beringer and Napa Valley Farm & Ranch Co., the grand jury report said.

The grand jury estimated the county has another 80 private farmworker housing facilities with fewer than five beds that are not regulated by the state.

Finally, farmworkers live in homes, apartments, rooms, garages and motels. But private sector housing is expensive in Napa County. A significant number of workers commute to the county, the grand jury report said.

“A need exists for a coordinated, local affordable housing program that addresses not only farmworkers, but all sectors of the labor market,” the report said.

The grand jury also wants the county to keep the Mondavi, Calistoga and River Ranch centers open year-round. There is a period in the winter when two of the three are closed for maintenance.

“With an increasing number of long-term farmworkers, the simultaneous closure of two units of farmworker housing results in a housing demand which exceeds capacity,” the grand jury report said.

The grand jury is a group of citizens working under the authority of Napa County Superior Court that acts as a community watchdog over local government officers and agencies. It issues reports on topics it has decided to investigate during any given year.

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Napa County Reporter

Barry Eberling covers Napa County government, transportation, the environment and general assignments. He was worked for the Napa Valley Register since fall 2014 and previously worked 27 years for the Daily Republic of Fairfield. He is a graduate of UC Sa