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The campaign begins

Bill Hocker | Jan 7, 2016 on: Campaign 2016

NVR 1/7/16: Supervisors Chairman Pedroza touts housing, transportation agenda

Supervisor Pedroza has laid out a couple of planks to his campaign platform. They are in line with ideas promoted by the Napa Valley Vintners at the conclusion of APAC and since, namely that the problems confronting the county and generating the ire of residents are traffic and lack of affordable housing. Some, of course, might see these as merely symptoms of the continuous expansion of the tourism industry and non-napa-wine industry that bring ever more jobs and more traffic and the need for more affordable housing.

His proposal for a shuttle bus system, both for tourists and workers, perhaps from large parking structures at the airport, is not an unreasonable attempt to reduce traffic. As with any public transit system paying for it would be difficult, but compared to the cost of widening highways (an approach he appropriately renounces) it might pencil out. A tram running on the wine train tracks as far as the airport should also be considered.

The concept of building affordable housing is a little more difficult to imagine, given the years spent trying to find sites before the county grasped at the Napa Pipe proposal. The cost of the 190 units of affordable housing at Napa Pipe was 750 market rate units, 200,000 sf of commercial industrial space, a hotel, elderly center and a Costco. More low paid workers will be needed by the project than can be accommodated in the affordable housing created leaving the county in worse housing shape than had the project not been built. The infrastructure impacts of the project (mostly unfunded) will be enormous, and it is a guarantee that traffic jams will only increase.

New affordable housing projects should be pursued on infill lots in the cities subsidized with mitigation fees paid by tourism and industrial developments, but let's recognize that such approaches are difficult to realize and will not even fill the needs of the new workers needed, let alone alleviate current shortages.

The more logical approach to affordable housing would be to try to stop the hemorrhaging of housing units used for short term rentals. Perhaps hundreds of housing units in the county might become a bit more affordable absent the profits to be made from airbnb. The strategies that cities and the county might use to to make existing housing affordable deserve at least as much effort to find a solution as the grueling process of trying to develop new affordable housing. After pursuing the non-profit new housing approach, Our Town St Helena is now pursuing the subsidization of existing housing.

But neither the expansion of the transportation system or the creation of affordable housing will do anything to solve those problems as long as development projects proceed at their current rate. Developers have shown a consistent ability to generate jobs and visitor experiences in Napa faster than any mitigations can possibly cope with. Let's remember that 120 new or expanded wineries are in the works representing over a million new tourist slots. Over 3000 market rate housing units are on the way. 2000 hotel rooms. Several million sf of commercial space. These projects will be adding to the existing traffic and need for affordable housing long before any of our ideas on traffic or affordable housing are realized.

Job creation in most places is a good thing. But a place where the object is to maintain an agricultural economy, in which a "sustainable rural community" is enshrined in the vision statement of its general plan, an ever increasing amount of development necessary for an ever increasing workforce and tourist population will eventually fill up the fields. Yes, traffic and affordable housing should be worked on. But until the rate of new development is halted, it is a fool's errand.