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Napa County works on housing puzzle


Aerial photo of Matthiassons’ home vineyard in the Oak Knoll AVA on the south-west edge of the city of Napa. Napa County is looking at how to balance agricultural protection with state housing mandates.

Napa County has begun grappling with a brainteaser that has real-world consequences — find room among world-famous wine country and its watersheds for more than 1,000 new homes.

This state housing mandate for the unincorporated county outside of cities is for 2023 to 2031. California isn't giving agricultural-preserving counties such as Napa a pass in its effort to create more housing.

Napa County could try to transfer the assigned homes for the unincorporated county into local cities. But American Canyon, Calistoga, Napa, St. Helena, and Yountville face their own state housing mandates, among them almost 2,000 new homes for the city of Napa.

“No city is knocking on our door to take on more housing,” county Planning, Building and Environmental Services Director David Morrison said. “They are struggling to meet the housing requirements they already have.”

So, while the county might use transfer agreements to put some of its assigned homes in the cities, it isn't necessarily looking to transfer all of them.

The county turned to 12 residents on its newly formed Housing Element Advisory Committee to try to find answers. No easy ones emerged during meetings on Oct. 26 and Nov. 15.

“I can’t think of anywhere we would develop affordable housing in the county area that is near amenities or has grocery stores or anything like that,” resident Jenna Bolyarde said. “It kind of seems we would be doing our tenants disservices by putting them into an unincorporated area.”

“You put your finger on the challenge we have,” consultant Hillary Gitelman said. 

Among the criteria the county could use when looking for housing sites is access to water, sewer, sidewalks and bus service. Also, the county will weigh whether sites it designates are likely to actually be developed.

The county made a list of possible locations:

  • Sites near the Carneros Resort and Spa, if utilities can be provided. This is an area with vineyards and some commercial sites near Highway 12/121 and Old Sonoma Road.
  • Between Foster Road and Highway 29. This area is adjacent to the southwestern city of Napa and could someday be annexed by the city.
  • The 9.8-acre former Stone Bridge School site amid the vineyards of the Carneros. The county would have to work with the site’s owner, the Napa Valley Unified School District.
  • Napa State Hospital property. This would require working with the site’s owner, the state.
  • The Silverado area east of the city of Napa.
  • Near to resorts at Lake Berryessa. The county is working to renovate four of the seven resorts, an effort which if successful would bring more workers there.
  • Add incentives for sites offered for past state housing mandates that didn’t fully develop, such as at Moskowite Corner near Lake Berryessa and at Angwin in the mountains northeast of St. Helena.
  • Find sites for farmworker housing, which can be in areas zoned for agriculture.

“That’s our shopping list we’ve come up with so far,” county Supervising Planner John McDowell said. “We haven’t been able to come up with anything more. It just shows how limited our options are.”

Another twist is the county lost more than 1,300 homes to wildfire since 2017. Morrison said that’s equivalent to all the homes built in the unincorporated county between 1992 and 2017.

One option might be to redevelop mobile home parks near Lake Berryessa lost to the 2020 fires and deed restrict them as affordable housing. The housing mandate requires a certain amount of housing to meet state affordability standards.

“Or do we want to say, ‘It’s just too dangerous to live there; we now know what we know,’ ” resident Kellie Anderson said.

Resident Heather Stanton asked how drought might affect the state-mandated housing allocations.

The county must identify sites with water availability and will have to analyze utilities in an environmental impact report. But state lawmakers believe the housing crisis is as big as the water crisis, Gitelman said.

As it turned out, the advisory committee couldn’t really expand on the list that the county had made, not within the limited time it had toward the end of the Nov. 15 meeting.

California assigned Regional Housing Need Allocations numbers to each region and the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) divided the regional figure among Bay Area counties and cities. The overall number for the Bay Area was new 441,176 homes from 2023 to 2031 — roughly the equivalent of another Oakland.

Unincorporated Napa County’s assignment of 1,014 homes is considered a draft until officially adopted by ABAG on Dec. 16. But county officials have given no indication they expect any change.

The county Board of Supervisors is to discuss housing allocations on Dec. 7. The Planning Commission is to discuss housing allocations on Dec. 15.

About a dozen Napans have lived in a homeless community called "the Bowl" for years. This week they had to move out. All tents and structures will be demolished and the area cleared. Take a look at the scene, and the people, here.

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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.

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