Surprised by a recent move by Napa Valley Unified School District to relocate Stone Bridge School to rural land along Old Sonoma Road, Napa County officials say there are issues they want to discuss.
“Ag land and building and growth potential are always big concerns,” said Supervisor Brad Wagenknecht, whose 1st supervisorial district includes the Carneros region site.
The School Board voted on Dec. 12 to buy 7.6 acres at 5266 Old Sonoma Road near Carneros Resort & Spa for $1.8 million. Wagenknecht, Supervisor Diane Dillon and county Planning, Building and Environmental Services Director David Morrison said they learned of the deal by reading about it in the newspaper.
Because the school district is a public agency, it doesn’t have to secure county permission to build on the site or go through county hearings. Still, Wagenknecht expressed hope the district will not ignore county comments.
“I’ve got to think that’s not the way you’d want to do things,” he said. “You’d at least want to have a receptive body.”
Wagenknecht said he and Morrison are to meet with school district officials this coming week.
The school district is doing routine property investigations that precede the finalization of real estate purchases. Assistant Superintendent Wade Roach said he doesn’t foresee escrow closing until April or May.
“We’ll definitely communicate to the city and the county and all those interested in what the plans are for Stone Bridge as we move forward,” Roach said.
Roach said the district talked with Napa County Farm Bureau, Napa Valley Vintners and Napa Valley Grapegrowers prior to moving ahead with the purchase. Wagenknecht said he wishes the county had been on the list.
“I understand they felt they were doing their due diligence in talking to the ag community, but there’s a bigger community that has to deal with this,” Wagenknecht said.
Stone Bridge School is located on rural land at 1680 Los Carneros Avenue, in a region with vineyards and wineries amid rolling hills southwest of the city of Napa. The Waldorf-style charter school has about 250 students and a farming program that includes growing crops.
The district wants to relocate Stone Bridge School because it sits over an earthquake fault and a gas transmission line. Roach said the new school along Old Sonoma Road could open in 2020.
“It really is a farm-based, rural type of program that fits well on this site we’re moving into over on Old Sonoma Road,” Roach said.
One of Wagenknech’s concerns is how the school will co-exist with nearby vineyards. He mentioned such issues as avoiding the drift of pesticides onto the school grounds, which could hamper farming.
Napa County Farm Bureau has similar concerns.
“We understand the mission of the school,” Farm Bureau Executive Director Jesse Ramer said. “It’s something that lines up pretty closely with the mission of the Farm Bureau. We totally support the concept. The challenge is the siting of the school in agricultural land, you run into lots of unintended consequences of dealing with neighboring agricultural activity.”
Roach said the school district already has schools near vineyards, among them Vichy Elementary School.
“We’re already dealing with that issue at some of our more rural schools and we have good relationships with our neighbors,” he said.
Wagenknecht is concerned about where the relocated Stone Bridge School on Old Sonoma Road will get water.
Rural developments typically use well water. But water quality and quantity have been an issue for Carnero Resort & Spa near the school site, with the resort trucking in city of Napa water.
Carneros Resort & Spa is seeking to extend a pipe that could bring city water to the area. This has been a controversial idea, in part because piped city water can allow for more growth in a rural area than would otherwise be possible. That has led to talk that the pipe be sized only for the resort.
Roach said the school district plans to dig a well. Even if the school could tap into a water line, it would probably still use well water for its agricultural program that includes growing crops.
Wagenknecht also wonders what will happen to the present, rural Stone Bridge School site along Los Carneros Avenue.
Roach said the district will form a 7-11 Committee of residents to look at whether to sell, lease or keep the site. The district would probably sell the property as is, with the school buildings intact, rather than pay for demolition.
Perhaps farm worker housing is possible at the site, Roach said. The county and agricultural groups want to expand the farm worker housing stock.
In 2014, the school district proposed building a middle school on rural, unincorporated land along Salvador Avenue near Napa. This would have been the first land taken out of Napa Valley’s famed agricultural preserve and the wine industry and conservation groups objected. The School Board pulled the purchase agreement from its agenda amid the uproar.
But the Carneros region is outside of the agricultural preserve, even though it also has vineyards and wineries. A county report shows the new Stone Bridge School site is zoned agricultural watershed and limited commercial.