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Skyline Wilderness Park (copy)

Skyline Wilderness Park is popular with hikers and bike riders. The state of California is looking at 20 acres of the lower park as a possible site for affordable housing. 

California is looking at 20 acres of 850-acre Skyline Wilderness Park as a possible place to build affordable housing.

Gov. Gavin Newsom in January ordered the state Department of General Services to find surplus state lands that could be used for housing. A map released Tuesday shows several dozen locations, including two in Napa County – Skyline and 19 acres at the Veterans Home of California at Yountville.

“Not every property on the map will be developed, it simply shows that properties have potential,” a Department of General Services and Department of Housing and Community Development press release said.

Napa County in 1980 began a 50-year agreement with the state of California to lease the Skyline lands for $100 annually and has let the nonprofit Skyline Park Citizens Association manage the park. In recent years, the county has sought to buy the land from the state.

Now part of Skyline is on the state’s potential housing site list.

“It’s a big problem, if you ask me,” Board of Supervisors chairman Ryan Gregory said on Wednesday.

The 20 acres are the flat area along Imola Avenue just east of the Napa County Community School and Napa County Office of Education. This is the Skyline Park equestrian area and a place to host large events.

Large events are a key to Skyline Park finances, John Woodbury, Napa County Regional Park and Open Space District general manager, wrote to his board of directors. This income is the difference between self-sufficiency and the need for a taxpayer subsidy.

The county wants to buy Skyline to keep it as a park in perpetuity, Gregory said. Senate Bill 20 by state Sen. Bill Dodd, D-Napa, would allow the county to resume negotiations for “all or part” of Skyline. The bill recently passed the Legislature and is on Newsom’s desk.

“They could sell it all or sell all of it minus 20 acres,” Gregory said.

A state press release said the state intends to retain ownership of the surplus lands used for housing and give developers long-term leases. That means the state wouldn’t need to follow local zoning laws.

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In September, the state will begin issuing requests for proposals to begin development of affordable housing at selected sites, the state press release said.

“We have no indication that any property in Napa County is one of the initial properties that will be moving forward,” said Molly Rattigan, deputy county executive officer.

Napa County Vision 2050 recently sent out an email expressing fear that Napa County wants to develop part of Skyline Park for housing, a claim county officials denied. The alert noted that Supervisor Alfredo Pedroza when addressing the Napa City Council on April 2 mentioned Skyline as among potential affordable housing sites.

Pedroza on Tuesday said he mentioned Skyline because this is state property and the state could make it a housing site. He wants the county to buy Skyline as a park, he added.

Napa County asked the state to consider property for housing along Imola Avenue that is part of the Napa State Hospital complex and is not in Skyline Park, Rattigan said. But the state didn’t include this site on its newly released housing sites map.

It was unclear Wednesday if the state could bring housing to Skyline before the lease between the state and county expires in 2030. Rattigan said she will examine the lease to see if there is a termination clause.

Napa County officials didn’t object to the inclusion of the Veterans Home on the state’s list for potential housing. Rather, the county had requested that the state do just that.

Yountville Mayor John Dunbar in particular has worked bring affordable housing to the Veterans Home. He’s noted that the Veterans Home has more than 900 workers and plans to build a $300 million skilled nursing facility.

“I think it’s a very important step forward having the vets home on this list,” Dunbar said Wednesday. “It’s going to help provide housing to the caregivers at the vets home. There’s been a challenge for many years to fill all the jobs that are available supporting the residents at the home, because in large part housing has been so expensive.”

Newsom in an April press release talked about the state’s drive to spur affordable housing development on surplus state lands.

“Housing is a basic human right, and in California, we simply don’t have enough of it,” Newsom said. “The cost of housing and rising rents are squeezing family budgets.”

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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.