Change your leaves, keep your roots intact.We live in a society where the pace of change accelerates every year, with new apps to download, new software updates weekly, and even our mobile devices are upgraded daily.

We mourn the days of not being dependent upon technology for entertainment, socialization, and community building, and we rejoice in the ability to reconnect with lost friends, in our access to maps at our fingertips with shortcuts around roadblocks and heavy traffic, and the ability to carry an encyclopedia in our pockets with answers to almost any question we ask.

I have read many letters about the changes in downtown historic Napa and it mirrors the development of technology. We mourn the loss of shops, the growth of tasting rooms, the increase of tourists, and we rejoice in the development of Veterans Memorial Park, the Oxbow Commons, and the Napa Riverfront. We miss the small, quaint shops that once lined First Street, and yet we are ecstatic for all the new restaurants that have come into town.

We want constancy in our lives and we also want to be transformed to accommodate the many changes in the world.

We don’t want to be stuck in the past and become obsolete, neither do we want to move so quickly we lose sight of what really matters. Our values, our principles, our hearts and the way we treat each other- these are the constants of our lives. These are our roots that keep the tree healthy and alive.

Many of these values are clearly laid out in the City of Napa’s General Plan with a vision to 2020. A new general plan is even now being created that will guide the next 20 years or more.

With each change in downtown Napa, with each loss, or new development, I use the General Plan as my guide. Are these changes in alignment with the General Plan, consistent with the values laid out? If so, whether I like the specific changes or not doesn’t matter, for these are the leaves upon the tree.

Autumn leaves have lived their useful season and no longer serve the life of a tree. Roots provide sustenance and stability; they are central to existence. Discerning leaf change from root change is often hard and yet always vital. That is what the General Plan does for us-- provides us with a tool for discernment.

I take this one step further, to the decisions made by landlords and business owners in downtown Napa. Do I believe a landlord has the right and obligation to his or her business model to obtain the best price for their commercial space, even if it means the loss of a beloved dance studio? Yes.

Do I think a board of directors has the right to make a decision to make better use of space and environment, even if it means the loss of an old time railroad club? Of course. Do I believe a landlord has the right to say to an adult shop that they are no longer relevant to the businesses in historic downtown Napa? Absolutely.

These are not root changes. None of these tread upon the values laid out in the General Plan; and, in fact, may support the values of the General Plan. No, these are leaf changes and we can and should embrace them as they happen. If you are concerned about the changes happening in Napa, first read the General Plan (available online).

Secondly, look at your core values and principles for living in a community -- identify your roots.

Thirdly, don’t let sentimentality cloud your judgment; simply ask: Is this change in line with my core values and principles? If not, speak to your City Council member and let your voice be heard.

Change is uncomfortable when it is a challenge to what we know, an adjustment to a familiar routine, an alteration to a secure habit. Don’t let your dis-ease automatically lead you to fight change. Use the discomfort as an opportunity to align yourself once more to your core values, ask if it really is a threat to your identity and the identity of the community, and be open that it may be time for transformation, of yourself and of your community.

Jim Gunther


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