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Today's pandemic slows Napa's planning for the next 20 years
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Today's pandemic slows Napa's planning for the next 20 years

Downtown Napa overhead

Downtown Napa is seen in September 2016 from a scaffold surrounding the steeple of First Presbyterian Church. The General Plan Advisory Committee, a 15-person group of citizen volunteers, is working with city staff and officials to adjust to the challenges presented by COVID-19 and to ensure public feedback can be considered in guiding land use and development for the next 20 years. 

Add the General Plan to the list of city projects impacted by the novel coronavirus.

A community workshop and follow-up survey on the land use draft plan scheduled for March and an Advisory Committee meeting scheduled in April were early casualties, key parts of the nearly two-year-long timeline that governs the General Plan.

Rather than stall progress entirely, Mike Walker, a senior city planner, said the survey will now go out this month, ahead of the community workshop, which will take place once social distancing guidelines have been relaxed.

The survey will be published on the General Plan website and links will be sent via its newsletter and the city’s social media channels. Respondents will be asked to consider their own neighborhood – how it could be improved and what could be expanded upon — as well as rethink how large corridors like Jefferson, Soscol and Trancas streets could be redeveloped to allow for more density and more varied use.

Napa’s General Plan will chart the city’s course for the next 20 years. The arrival of COVID-19 has sparked dialogue about the preparation of cities in responding to crises.

“There are elements of the general plan that deal with emergency services, and we traditionally think more about things like fires, earthquakes, and other catastrophic events like that, but we hadn’t really looked at something like this,” Walker said. “I think this gives us an opportunity to address some of that.”

The coronavirus’ legacy will also bring the idea of “health in all policies” to the forefront, he said. The approach asks officials to evaluate all decisions through the lens of their impact on the well-being of Napans.

One key issue is Napa’s severe housing shortage, specifically for low- or moderate-income residents.

“There is a crying need for housing in Napa. We have that need now and we’re going to continue to have that need,” said Chuck Shinnamon, the chairman of the General Plan Advisory Committee.

Dyett & Bhati Urban and Regional Planners, the Bay Area consulting firm hired by the city to spearhead the process, is funded through a contract approved by City Council in May 2018, so its budget isn’t threatened by any economic shortfall that results from COVID-19, Walker said.

Walker added that if the virus forces the delay of public gatherings for much longer than anticipated and pushes the timeline “way beyond” what’s been budgeted for, the city “may have to tweak that a little bit.”

Public participation is key to the creation of a new General Plan, Shinnamon says, asking residents to remain engaged through the survey.

“We really want to have a broad community dialogue,” he said. “I’m hoping that once this ‘shelter in place’ order is lifted and we’re actually able to see each other and have a cup of coffee together that we can start having those community meetings again and to have folks come and share their thoughts and respond to what we’re talking about.”

Editor’s Note: Because of the health implications of the COVID-19 virus, this article is being made available free to all online readers. If you’d like to join us in supporting the mission of local journalism, please visit napavalleyregister.com/members/join/.

You may reach Carly Graf at cgraf@napanews.com; 713-817-4692; or via Twitter @carlykgraf.

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City of Napa reporter

Carly Graf covers Napa city government and community issues. She received her master’s degree from Northwestern University in Chicago. She most recently worked for a news outlet in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

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