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Crisis highlights need for diverse Napa economy

Crisis highlights need for diverse Napa economy

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I was disappointed in the recent Napa Valley Register account of what Napa City Council members are doing during this time of shelter in place ("Like thousands of other Napans, City Council members make the best of 'shelter in place'," March 24). We need the City Council’s leadership to help us through this time and this article didn’t offer that.

As the owner of downtown commercial property where my small business tenants are terribly worried about how they will survive, I would like to see attention focused on how to help our small family business owners make it through this challenge. Small businesses and landlords alike, are all in this together. This should be a priority of the City Council.

We have put so much emphasis on the survival of the wine and tourism industries, particularly since the 2008 downturn. The wine industry was already in trouble before this pandemic. Climate disruption, droughts, fires, floods, corporate consolidation, and a grape glut have thrown the industry into uncertainty. The city of Napa and Napa County have become the proverbial “company town,” a precarious situation. The successes of a few are achieved on the backs of those workers who cannot afford to live here. Then, when the business of the company falters, the town too often does as well.

Let’s not let this happen here.

We all are having to live with the uncertainty of where this is going. We fear things will never be the same again. But maybe it’s time to accept that we need something very different. Diversity is the hallmark of resilience, whether it's of our environment or our economic base.

Can we imagine a strong economy that supports the community who lives here, not just the hordes of tourists who flock in when conditions are ripe, eat at our restaurants, stay at our hotels, and drink? Can we imagine that our teachers, nurses, grocers, firefighters, police and merchants are all able to afford living here again? Yes, Napa County is agricultural and will remain so, but letting tourism and direct winery sales dominate, make our local economy fragile, exactly as we are seeing now.

Small businesses can be a safeguard in times like this. Perhaps the City Council could participate in forming groups of business owners willing to assist those in need of help in this transition of the next months. A stable and diverse community is one where people live where they work and shop there as well.

There is going to be an enormous push to go back to what we know, and in this case, a bullying tourism industry will try to lead. This tragedy may be an opportunity for a needed shift, and painful as it will be, it is most certainly the right time for something very different.

Patricia Damery

Napa

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