Commuter trains, hotels with employee housing, a change of elected leaders – all are ideas voiced by residents to help cure what they think ails the county.
More than 125 people packed the Napa Valley Horsemen’s Association assembly room on Thursday for a Napa Vision 2050 town hall. The theme was what the grassroots group sees as the shadow side of wine country’s tourism success.
“We’ve been chipping away at the soul of Napa,” Vision 2050 President Dan Mufson said. “That’s what I want to talk about.”
He mentioned traffic congestion, wineries becoming event centers, hotel proliferation, fewer stores for locals and the lack of affordable housing as among the challenges. The balance that county leaders seek isn’t happening, he said.
“Our question to them is, what is balance? Is this balance?” Mufson said, showing a photograph of a train teetering on a cliff.
The spotlight shifted to the audience for the bulk of the evening. People came to the microphone and voiced their ideas for change.
Sudie Pollock and Yeoryios Apallas both suggested requiring hotels to include quarters for employees. Apallas said the amount could be based on a formula involving habitable space in the building.
“Why not make them put affordable studios on one floor?” Apallas said.
Mike Hackett came to the microphone to talk about traffic congestion and challenged the audience to come up with ideas. He thought such county ideas as extending Devlin Road in the airport industrial area to create a Highway 29 reliever route will help, but aren’t enough.
“This one scares me the most,” Hackett said. “I’m fairly creative, but I can’t really think of a solution, because it’s gone so far.”
Chris Benz said people in the room could try to reduce their solo driving trips by sharing rides and combining errands.
“I believe we need to be the solution,” Benz said.
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Linda Kerr and Michael Setty both talked about using trains to move commuters. Setty said the county could buy the Union Pacific tracks that connect Napa Valley with Solano County and the Vallejo ferry, perhaps using money from a proposed $3 toll increase on regional bridges.
“That’s a vital piece of railroad,” he said.
Kerr had another suggestion.
“Really, the only way to change what’s going on is to elect (different) people to office,” she said.
Napa City Councilman Scott Sedgley defended the city’s trend toward more compact, taller developments which can be controversial. He pointed to city growth boundaries that cannot be expanded into rural areas without voter approval.
“When we did it, we knew the chickens would come home to roost,” Sedgley said. “You have no room to expand … you have to go tighter and higher. That’s the reality, folks.”
Former Napa City Councilwoman Cindy Watter lives in Napa’s Old Town area. She sees more vacation rentals and what she believes to be illegal Airbnb operations.
“This removes good housing, places people can live,” she said.
A resident suggested exploring a housing land trust similar to OPAL Community Land Trust on Orcas Island, Washington. The nonprofit reduces home prices using grants and donations. It owns the land a house is on, leasing the land to the homeowner.
Harris Nussbaum, moderator of the event, said everyone must work together, rather than have an us-agaist-them situation.
“I came in 1955,” he said. “Needless to say, Napa is a little bit different. I’m not saying, ‘Go back to 1955.’ But we have to work together to make a difference.”
Napa Vision 2050 is a coalition of 12 local groups that came together in January 2015. Members include the Sierra Club, Get a Grip on Growth, Save Rural Angwin, Defenders of the East Napa Watersheds and St. Helena Citizens.