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Skyline park

A view of the flat, 20 acres of 850-acre Skyline Wilderness Park that is on a state list of potential affordable housing sites. That small horse behind the horse washing stall is decorative, not real. The Napa County Regional Park and Open Space District on Monday reaffirmed that it wants to protect the park in its entirety.

The Napa County Regional Park and Open Space District wants all of 850-acre Skyline Wilderness Park locally owned as a nature park, with no 20-acre carve-out for affordable housing.

“It’s an incredible recreation amenity for the whole county and it needs to be preserved,” Open Space District Board Member Dave Finigan said.

Gov. Gavin Newsom on Thursday signed legislation by state Sen. Bill Dodd, D-Napa, that allows California to negotiate to sell off “all or part of” the state-owned land for continued use as a park or preserve. The buyer can be either Napa County government or the Open Space District.

But California also recently placed 20 acres of Skyline Park on a list of state properties with potential for affordable housing. That raises the possibility that the state, if it sells the land at all, could hold onto this portion.

On Monday, the Open Space District Board of Directors met to discuss the situation. The verdict – the directors want local ownership of the entire 850 acres along Imola Avenue east of the city of Napa. And they want all 850 acres to remain a public park in perpetuity.

Board member Barry Christian said housing that is being built in local cities increases urban densities. As he sees it, this influx of city-dwellers increases the need for parks.

“It seems to me we’d want to go in the opposite direction of taking a park and turning it into housing,” he said.

Skyline Park has 25 miles of hiking trails in oaks-covered hills. The 20 acres that could have housing is the flat area near Imola Avenue with the equestrian arena, horse skills course and space for special events such as camporees and search-and-rescue team training.

Napa County since 1980 has leased the Skyline land from the state for $100 annually and let the nonprofit Skyline Park Citizens Association run the park, with the lease expiring in 2030. The county has for several years wanted to buy the land to ensure the park remains beyond the lease.

Finigan noted that Skyline Park will soon be linked by trail with another park that the Open Space District is creating. That is the Suscol Headwaters Preserve on 709 acres in the hills near Jameson Canyon.

Board member Tony Norris called Skyline Park part of the “fabric of opportunities in nature connected by regional trails.”

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The Open Space District in March will try to pass Measure K, a quarter-cent sales tax for parks and recreation. One goal is to raise money to buy Skyline Park.

Open Space District General Manager John Woodbury in reports to his board analyzed the various scenarios under which that 20 acres could – and could not – be developed for housing.

Skyline Park is designated as agriculture/watershed/open space under the Napa County general plan, which precludes housing. This designation is locked in by the county’s voter-approved Measure P and would require a county-wide vote to change.

Also, the land is outside of the city of Napa’s voter-approved growth limit line, Woodbury wrote.

But California has land use authority over land it owns. If the state decided to keep the 20 acres and lease it out long-term to a developer, local growth laws wouldn’t apply.

Still, a housing development needs water and sewer lines. Woodbury wrote that the extension of such infrastructure to the site could be subject to local control.

Yet there’s another potential wrinkle. The Skyline lands used to be part of Napa State Hospital. Napa State Hospital has water and sewer agreements that date back for decades, Woodbury wrote. Open space staff is investigating this issue.

Woodbury sees another, better housing option for the state on its adjacent Napa State Hospital property.

“It’s not clear why the state is not looking at the vacant land within the state hospital grounds, for which they haven’t identified any future use, yet they are proposing to develop land that has been used as a public park for 39 years as excess and appropriate for development,” he wrote.

First things first. Norris asked that the Open Space District send a letter to Newsom thanking him for signing the legislation that makes a Skyline sale to the county possible. That letter should also go to Dodd and Assemblywoman Cecilia Aguiar-Curry, D-Winters for their work on the bill, he said.

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Napa County Reporter

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