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Financial benefits vs. quality of life

Financial benefits vs. quality of life

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When will we reach that point of too much of a good thing?

Members of the Napa Housing Coalition are very concerned about the plethora of hotels in Napa County in development or in the pipeline which, with rare exception, fail to provide the workforce housing needed to support the employees that will be generated from these developments. The financial benefit of new development to local jurisdictions is rubbing up against the quality of life for those who live and work here.

The Coalition vociferously opposed the First & Oxbow Hotel for a number of reasons. The primary points: their proposal to mitigate the hotel’s impacts on employee housing didn’t remotely address the real housing issues and, most importantly, it is time for the county, the city of Napa, and the other Valley municipalities to collaboratively and collectively establish policies and procedures to ensure that every new hotel room brings with it the corresponding housing for the associated employees.

There are 11 hotels already approved, under construction and/or ready to open, adding 1,443 rooms. There are at least six more hotels in the planning/entitlement process, creating another 675-775 rooms (see breakout box).

We fully understand that some of these projects will not move forward, but we do believe most of them will. In either case, this is a lot of new hotel rooms. With these hotels come employees, at a fairly high ratio to hotel rooms. There is an already over-burdened housing inventory. Where are all of these new employees going to live?

Significant to this issue, Lake County just approved a large hotel/recreation project on Guenoc Ranch just over the Napa County border. Many Lake County residents currently working in Napa Valley hotels may no longer be willing to commute to Calistoga or St. Helena, instead choosing to work closer to home in one of these new resorts.

This raises the question of where other new employees will come from to fill those vacant positions. This will add more stress to upper Valley hotels and hospitality venues as they look for replacement employees.

Most likely, the vast majority will be commuting from somewhere outside of Napa County until there is sufficient housing. A “cost-benefit” ratio for the developer and the communities needs to be clearer given this impact.

For those that may argue that requiring hotel developers to build housing will put too much burden on the hotel industry, we expect this to be a transitory argument. As soon as the hotel developers see that building housing ensures them a well-qualified and dependable workforce and that their bottom line is benefited, their resistance will disappear.

In fact, several tourism/hospitality-oriented communities such as Truckee, Aspen and Jackson Hole, include in ordinances a requirement for developers to provide housing, proportional to employee generation, as part of their development plans.

In March, 2018, the Napa City Council received a report detailing the market for new hotels along with an economic analysis that outlined the housing impacts from new hotels. ("Napa Lodging Market Study" May 2018, prepared by Cushman & Wakefield and BAE Urban Economics). Using middle range estimates from these reports, 400 to 800 new residential units will be needed to house these employees and their families. Half of those units need to be in the “affordable” category.

Where will those homes be built? Who is going to pay for them? Why aren’t new hotels required to actually build housing rather than paying a pittance in “mitigation” fees? How do we account and fund for all of the traffic in and out of our county when new employees commute from elsewhere? And, at what point do we decide that we have enough hotels? Many of the sites for these hotels would be perfect for housing, especially for folks already working in our hospitality industry.

The need for good, quality housing that is affordable frequently rises to the top when locals are asked about critical needs. We call on all our elected officials throughout the entire county to vet all hotel applications using the inclusion of workforce housing in the development plan as a key approval criteria.

Teresa Zimny, Co-Chair

Napa Housing Coalition

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