The purpose of this letter is to inform the residents in Napa County of conversations I have had with Mr. Philip Sales, who is a spokesperson and board member for the Napa Valley Vine Trail Coalition (NVVTC).
My concern was about an agreement the NVVTC had with the Napa County Board of Supervisors to keep the Vine Trail route along an established transportation corridor, Highway 29. This agreement is now in the process of being broken by the Vine Trail. The group is proposing a deviation through sensitive, Ag Preserve zoned land north of St. Helena. The reason given for this change by Mr. Sales is that for Caltrans to accommodate the trail requirements on Highway 29, it would simply take too long.
When I questioned Mr. Sales about the vetting process of finding a viable route prior to creating the trail, he stated that they knew there would be some "problems to face." As the conversation continued, he revealed to me that the Vine Trail Coalition is speaking to Caltrans about installing several red-light-signal-crossing stations on Highway 29 near Bothe State Park to stop traffic in both directions for trail users.
With the Vine Trail's own estimate of 35 to 40 users of the path per hour, one can only begin to imagine the full scope of dangerous safety issues and traffic delays this project, as it is being modified, would create.
If you are concerned about any of these "problems to face," then I urge you to attend the Jan. 5 Board of Supervisors meeting at 2 p.m. in Napa.
Editor’s note: The Register asked Philip Sales about this reported conversation. He confirmed he had spoken with the author and responded with the following:
“The NVVT Coalition agreed at its Board Meeting in April 9, 2009 to try and route the Vine Trail substantially on Transportation Corridors. This was not an agreement with the Napa County Board of Supervisors and therefore no agreement is being broken with them. The otherland owner groups including the Napa Valley Vintners and Napa Valley Grapegrowers and the rest of the Vine Trail Board agree with this intent but the Farm Bureau have taken a different position on this.
“The reason for this deviation is that Caltrans does not have adequate existing right of way in the area between Big Tree Lane and Lodi Lane to accommodate the Vine Trail and so an alternative needed to be found. The plan is to use as much existing public right of way and publicly owned land to accomplish this. Using a combination of existing public roads (Ehlers Lane) and the City of Calistoga’s property, State Parks plus easements from four willing landowners, we believe we can make this happen. There would be minimal impact on vineyard operations.
“The deviation is made necessary because Caltrans' right of way in that section of Highway 29 is very narrow. In some cases the right of way is as narrow as 43 feet and most of it below 60 feet. Caltrans does not have any plans to widen Highway 29 in this area. In order to build the Vine Trail within the Caltrans right of way, a minimum of 70 feet in right of way would be needed to accommodate the road, which would have to be improved to minimum current Caltrans standards, plus drainage, and the Vine Trail.
“My point to Mr. Sculatti is that because Caltrans does not have sufficient right of way and if Caltrans wanted to buy that right of way it would a) have to become a priority project for Caltrans, which it is not, and b) Caltrans may have to exercise eminent domain to acquire property from unwilling adjacent landowners. This would take many years to accomplish even assuming Caltrans would be willing make the project a priority, and it would be very expensive because it would be reconstructing almost two miles of Highway 29. Moreover, the Vine Trail has in its charter that we will not take easements acquired by eminent domain. The $6.1 million grant which has been awarded to Napa County will need to be encumbered by contracts by 2020.
“All projects have 'problems.' In this case the constrained right of way is a challenge. We have been working with the property owners in the corridor since January to find a route that would be voluntary. In meetings with neighbors we have offered to explore alternatives. The fact that we have been able to get most of this alignment worked out with property owners willing to grant voluntary easements to the Vine Trail demonstrates that this process has been open and collaborative.
“On the signal issue, I am not sure what Mr. Sculatti means by 'revealed.' At meetings in Calistoga and St, Helena in March 2015, the installation of the two High Intensity Activated signals was discussed. Our traffic engineer has prepared reports on their feasibility. One crosswalk would be located close to the entry into Bothe Napa State Park, slightly north of Larkmead, and the second near the entry to the Cal Fire property north of Big Tree Lane. The Vine Trail will be on public land in Bothe Napa State Park between these two points. These signals are only activated when a button is pushed by a trail user crossing Highway 29.
“The issue here is not about the Vine Trail imposing itself on landowners; it is about the rights of the public to use existing public roads, public land and rights of way and the rights of property owners to grant voluntary easements across their properties.”
Sales also pointed out that the Jan. 5 meeting is to discuss various Vine Trail issues but not to decide on the specifics of the Upvalley route per se.