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Let me please attempt to distinguish fact from hyperbole regarding the 632 McCorkle project.

First. I have been portrayed as the "out-of-town developer from Orinda." Yes. I presently live in Orinda. But I am "from" St. Helena. I was born and raised here and lived in the upper valley for the first 25 years of my life. I spent eight years at St. Helena Catholic School and four years at St. Helena High School. My extended family has pretty much lived in St. Helena continuously since moving to Adams Street in 1962. My dad managed White Sulphur Springs for many years. We even lived there. One or both of my parents have lived at Vineyard Valley from 1987 until my father passed in 2015. I own other property in town. My sisters still live in town. And I have many friends here. My wife and I plan on moving back here soon. I love this town.

Second. The City Council dutifully and respectfully heard all sides of both support and opposition for the project in a hearing that lasted nearly three hours. The City Council appropriately approved the project and operated within its discretion -- which in this matter was limited to Architectural Design Review. The 632 McCorkle parcel has been zoned high density residential (HDR) since at least 1993. The City Council does not have authority to restrict a project on a property that is being developed for its zoned and intended use.

Third. The soils issue was appropriately managed under the regulatory authority of Napa County, and then subsequently the Regional Water Board. This issue was never brushed under the rug by the City of St. Helena. It was simply being managed by the correct authority, and had nothing to do with the entitlements for the property.

We did excavate the soils per a workplan agreed with Napa County in early May 2016. That soil has been continuously covered by plastic tarps since then and not exposed to rain or wind. Prior to the initial autumn rains, we covered this pile with a second tarp. Some neighbors seem to be confusing a small pile of clean excavated dirt and a pile of wood chips when they indicate that contaminated soil has been exposed to the elements.

We also continuously sampled air quality during excavations to ensure there was no airborne contamination. The contaminated material that has been on the site for over 30 years was removed last week. This was delayed only due to the retirement of the presiding Napa County geologist, and subsequent referral of oversight to the State of California.

Fourth. This is not "Love Canal" or "Erin Brockovich" or "Flint, Michigan.” This is nominal contamination caused from long-term storage of auto parts. The same auto parts that we all park in our driveway or garage every night. As for the Hexavalent Chromium (Cr6), what we now know is that Cr6 is an artifact of the prescribed ASTM test process -- due to oxidation that routinely occurs during testing for the native Chromium (i.e., the Cr6 is actually not in the soil). It was generated in the laboratory. The owner of the lab, a Ph.D. in Soils Chemistry, testifies to that as it is known to be a common outcome. Our statistical analysis backs that claim, as the Cr6 levels are a highly correlated function of the Chromium (Cr3) levels. Chromium (Cr3) is ubiquitous in the upper valley and our Cr3 results are very much in line with natural conditions in Napa Valley. For those interested, this is all in public record.

Fifth. There have never been elevated levels of Cadmium, Chromium or Zinc. Lead was always the constituent of concern and has been completely removed from the site, as we promised and committed to the neighbors, the City of St. Helena, Napa County and the Regional Water Board.

Finally. I look forward to a more constructive and congenial dialog. I do not like writing editorials, and I certainly do not like being written about.

I have great empathy for the neighbors regarding the impact and change to this neighborhood and potentially others. However, the process for shaping the future of St. Helena should be a constructive and proactive exercise that takes place through the drafting and revising of the General Plan and the Housing Element, and not by unleashing expensive attorneys and lawsuits. That approach certainly does not foster congeniality, cooperation, nor community.

Joe McGrath


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