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Calistoga's Chief of Police, Mitch Celaya, chats with residents at 'Healthy Calistoga'

Calistoga’s chief of police Mitch Celaya, left, chats with residents at “Healthy Calistoga” in the multipurpose room of the Calistoga High School.

CALISTOGA — People are friendly in Calistoga, and everybody knows one another. But more affordable shopping and housing are tops on a list of what could make the city even better, residents said at a community event.

Healthy Calistoga — which doubled as Mayor Chris Canning’s monthly Community Forum — was convened earlier this month at Calistoga High School to start a dialogue about what people love about Calistoga, and what they think would make Calistoga better, said Andy Mughannam, community schools manager at UpValley Family Centers.

“We’re here to listen,” Mughannam said. “We cannot solve all the problems,” but this event is a way to find out what residents really need and want. He said the result report of the meeting won’t be available for “at least a couple months,” and he anticipates a follow-up meeting to occur in the summer or early fall.

A few of the doable suggestions were to have workshops for job training for teenagers and seniors, enhanced recreation activities and better advertising of the current programs, Canning said.

The bilingual, family-friendly event also offered a free buffet dinner — a portion of which occurred during a region-wide blackout — and brought together local resources and support services under one roof.

Small groups were formed, each with a facilitator – most of whom were bilingual – and with the instruction to write down on a pink piece of paper what each person loved about Calistoga. Yellow slips of paper were for ideas for what could make Calistoga even better.

“Top-rate emergency services,” said one note, with a heart drawn in the corner.

“If you have a problem, police arrive right away,” said another.

Others read: “Nice and safe community”; “Calistoga gives us a safe place to live and a healthy environment to raise our children.”

The diverse and welcoming community was appreciated as was the small-town feel with no chain stores.

Some applauded the mayor and other city officials for being accessible and fiscally responsible.

The city’s walkability and the lack of urgency for needing a car in a tranquil and naturally beautiful environment were noted several times.

“Being able to hear crickets at night and not constant traffic,” wrote one attendee.

The wish list included more health services and a state preschool on the elementary school grounds.

A desire for more youth activities, including things for teens, was requested multiple times, some even wishing for a return of a movie theater or the addition of a bowling alley or sports center.

A few requests were placed for better street lighting, along with one that conversely complained that lights are too bright.

While not all the wishes can be granted, Canning said later that some of them, like the job trainings and workshops, can be attained relatively quickly.

At least two known wants and needs – affordable housing and shopping – are not going to be solved any time soon, though the city is working with Corporation for Better Housing (CBH), a nonprofit organization that builds housing for low- to moderate-income seniors and families, to build a 30-unit apartment complex for seniors at 611 Washington St., and has already built a 48-unit family apartment building on private property at 1715 Washington St. that is 100 percent occupied.

It won’t solve all the affordable housing needs, officials have said. But given the high cost and scarcity of land, Canning has said in the past the city doesn’t expect to ever be able to fix the problem and must find suitable work-arounds to help alleviate the difficulty. One such attempt is coming this spring when the Chamber of Commerce, where Canning is the executive director, will roll out an employee shuttle that will run between Santa Rosa and Calistoga to help those who don’t have regular access to a vehicle get to their jobs in Calistoga.

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The Weekly Calistogan Editor

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