“Yep Son, we have met the enemy and he is us.” Pogo, Earth Day 1971
I miss Walt Kelly’s Pogo cartoon strip (Kelly passed away in 1973) whose fictional characters, inhabiting the Okefenokee Swamp (not to be confused with that other, more dismal swamp located 694 miles to the north) provided an ironic view of things, political and otherwise, during an almost 30-year run starting in 1948.
But occasionally the irony of certain news items suffices to fill the void left by Pogo’s demise. Such was the case with the Oct. 4 Napa Valley Register, wherein “Housing Crunch, Too expensive to live, own?” ran cheek-by-jowl with “Stanly Ranch shows design,” an apparently too-good-to-pass-up enclave community (to use the Register’s words) offering “unparalleled luxury and convenience.”
As in “As if, what we really need is another enclave community offering unparalleled luxury and convenience” while those individuals who contribute directly to the success of Napa Valley but cannot afford villas and vineyard homes (whether through fractional ownership or outright purchase) are left to twist in the economic wind.”
As in “As if, by allowing increased stratification of land and housing prices and stagnant (in real terms) or declining wages, both for middle- and upper-middle class wage earners (think teachers; police, fire and social service personnel; and other professional individuals) as well as those in the moderate and below-moderate wage categories, doesn’t send the message that we do not value their contributions and therefore are not concerned with their housing needs.”
The response will no doubt be “But look at all the recent strides made in developing affordable housing in Napa.” Such disingenuous claims (knowingly made or not) divert attention from the reality of a continued lack of sufficient affordable housing in Napa (county and city) exacerbated both by decades of failure to generate an adequate stock of affordable housing in the past (‘NIMBY-ism” writ large) and the lack of a real commitment to actually address the problem now and in the future.
Such was recently brought home by the local purchase in June 2017—for $1,000,000—of a 1-acre parcel with a 1970’s style 3-bedroom 2-bath ranch home, that was promptly burned down (less expensive than conventional demolition). After starting a rebuilding process interrupted by two red-tag stop-work orders (failure to obtain building, grading and flood-plain permits, etc.) the new owners decided to abandon the project. The 1-acre bare parcel has languished, for sale at $1,500,000 (recently reduced to the bargain price of $1,450,000). Such a deal.
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Not to be outdone, the adjacent, similarly-sized parcel and more-recently-renovated home, was purchased in June 2018 for $1.9-million, promptly gutted and has now stood vacant (with only periodic efforts to do any work) for almost one and one-half years.
I relate these two instances not because the properties in question would provide a location for affordable housing but to exemplify the mind-set of some individuals drawn to purchase homes in the Napa Valley, and to state that continuing in this direction will have dire consequences for the strength of the social fabric of Napa.
Let me put it more bluntly: a successful Napa Valley economy depends on a culturally, ethnically and economically diverse community. Continued failure to meaningfully address the lack of affordable housing in Napa Valley undermines this diversity and will inevitably result in the demise of the tourism and agricultural engine that powers the valley.
And building more hotels and event-centered “wineries” without the above-mentioned affordable housing infrastructure (e.g., by embracing planning and approval policies that allow the construction of affordable housing to be sidestepped through in-lieu fees and waivers), coupled with weak or non-existent oversight, will only exacerbate this situation.
The most compliant housing element, the largest affordable housing bank account, the best intentions, while better than the alternative, will not actually put affordable housing on the ground.
And affordable housing on the ground is what is needed, not $600,000-to-$1,500,000 townhomes.
So, in the absence of Walt Kelly’s Pogo, I appreciate the Register’s juxtaposition of “Housing Crunch, Too expensive to live, own?” and “Stanly Ranch shows design” articles. They provide a poignant reminder of what many of us feel is the single most significant problem facing Napa Valley—the lack of affordable housing.
And how little progress has been made in addressing this problem.