City of Napa


Jan 22, 2015

The revolt of the people who lived in the City of Napa was as important to the preservation of agriculture as the Ag Preserve itself. In the long run, it was really more important, in my view.
- Ginny Simms, 2009 (Napa city planning commissioner & County Supervisor 1968-78)
(jldagfund)


The Napa County General Plan protects agriculture in the vast majority of the county under AP and AW zoned areas. It establishes that urban development be concentrated in the 5 municipalities and a couple of urban "bubbles". The basic attitude is "don't touch ag land and you can do whatever you want within the urban boundaries". The boundires of the municipalities, establisted under a slow growth attitude championed by Ginny Simms, John Tuteur and others, are compact and well defined by Rural Urban Limit (RUL) lines.

Volker Eisele, Ginny Simms and others made a further effort to protect ag with the passage of Measure J in 1990 and its extension with Measure P in 2007. It required the change of zoning of ag lands to be voted by the citizens of the county. No longer could it be done by agreement of the supervisors and the city councils. Like the ag preserve of 1968, Measure J was a landmark piece of legislation, quickly adopted elsewhere to promote slow growth policies. Until I was exposed to Napa Pipe, however it was hard to see that the protections of the Napa General Plan to contain urban growth have become paper thin.

Measure J's strength in 1990 is becoming its achilles heel in 2014, despite its renewal through 2058. A vote of the people can change ag use to urban use at any time - a simple majority of the vote. And the voters of Napa County are rapidly changing. Sean Scully of the NVR has done editorials on the changing demographics of the county here and here. The outlook is not encouraging for agricultural protection.

The populations of American Canyon and Napa City have expanded to now constitute 70% of the county population. As the passage of Measure P in 2007 showed there were still enough urban residents in those cities committed to the idea of an agricultural economy to support passage. But the numbers continue to shift. Projects like Napa Pipe, Watson Ranch and the 500 units of the Tulocay Village, a part of the huge Gasser Master Plan area on the east bank of the river just north of Imola, will bring a dramatic increase in the voters more concerned with shopping centers than vines.

The county, in an effort to relieve pressure on the up valley rural areas created the city of American Canyon in 1992 and both cities have had a free rein to suck up much of the development lust directed toward such an undeveloped county. But it was a faustian bargain and we are now at the point where the developers can get their due. It is a little more difficult for development interests to throw money at voters than it is to throw it at supervisors, but not much. As Keith Rogal showed in the "Keep Napa Napa" campaign and happened again with the "costco-of-your-own" Measure A campaign, convincing voters to approve urban development is a proven strategy.

Update 7/29/15: In a meeting with Sup. Diane Dillon, she mentioned that the municipalities were always pushing for annexation of county land and the supervisors were always resisting. I replied by saying that a county vote under measure P would be required. No, she said: annexations, as opposed to changes in county zoning designations covered by Prop P, are just agreements between city councils and the BOS. I was stunned at my ignorance, and even more stunned at how little protection Prop P really affords.]

Those concerned about the survival of agriculture in the county need to move into the city planning debates post haste, just as Ginny Simms has continued to do, seemingly forever.

Articles:
NVR 6/14/17: Napa planners to review Bounty Hunter’s new downtown building
NVR 6/5/17: Napa Valley Wine Train owners plan $100 million resort development
NVR 5/17/17: Altamira family reviving plans for a winery/hotel project on Silverado Trail
NVR 2/20/17: Planned Napa apartment development sold for $34 million
NVR 2/20/17: Napa asks, How many hotel rooms are enough?
NVR 2/14/17: Major changes in the works for downtown Napa
NYTimes 2/1/17: A Waking Giant or a Monster? Developers Eye Once-Sleepy Napa
NVR 1/7/17: Napa marks off retail areas to join major apartment complex
NVR 12/29/16: No. 3 story of 2016: Oxbow District becomes ground zero for developers
NVR 12/7/16: San Diego developer making a big play in downtown Napa
NVR 10/7/16: Napa County selects ambitious developer to buy Oxbow property
NVR 9/4/16: Planners endorse 37 east Napa homes despite privacy, tree concerns
NVR 9/6/16: ‘Foxbow’ mixed-use development proposed for Oxbow area
NVR: 8/4/16: Napa builder pans parking fee hike planned for downtown
NVR 7/22/16: Napa planners endorse 282 apartments near Napa River, with more to come
NVR 3/6/16: Napa planners put neighborhood tasting room on hold
NVR 2/19/16: Napa proceeding cautiously on hotel-apartment plan
NVR 2/7/16: Developer cleared to build condo project
NVR 1/20/16: Hotel apartments prosed to replace historic rail car barn
NVR 12/23/15: Beth Painter chosen for city Planning Commission
Who pays the costs of growth?
Fordor cost of growth report

Posts


You must log in to add comments  | Share this topic
16 comments



Hotel explosion rocks Napa


Bill Hocker - Jun 25, 2017 9:04AM  Share #1395
The Big City comes to sleepy Napa
Update: 6/20/17
It's hard to keep up with this issue:
NVR 6/25/17: Downtown Napa hotel plan calls for merging Zeller's and former post office sites
NVR 6/22/17: Surging hotel taxes become a larger part of the new Napa city budget
NVR 6/20/17: How many hotels are enough -- or too much? Contact the Register

The hotel explosion raises several issues.

First, the loss of a community. Hotels not only bring in more tourists, but they increase the 24-hour tourist population. At some point, as the ratio of tourists to residents increases, and as jobs, commercial activity and housing continue to shift from resident-serving to tourist-serving, the sense of normal, small-town community life will be lost to the collective endevour of catering to, and being the local color for, the tourism experience. And the real town and its community will disappear.

Second, a financing dependency. TOT revenue and other in-lieu fees are welcomed as a quick fix for the deferred infrastructure and service costs needed to mitigate the impacts of previous urban development. But low wage jobs are created by the hundreds and the money isn't there for affordable housing. Traffic and parking problems explode. The increased tourism and employee population require additional infrastructure and services which then encourage more new project approvals and so on. Ultimately the place becomes a dense tourist trap, devoid of residents, and, much like Oxbow is now, packed with people wondering what's so special about Napa.

Third, the loss of Napa's rural soul. The number of hotel projects, like the amount of traffic, is a symptom of a community losing it's resitance to development pressure. That pressure was was contained in Napa for the last 40 years by a combination of politicians and citizenry with a clear vision of an un-urbanized future, and an industry dependent on an agricultural product. But as the landscape and vineyards are slowly filled with buildings to exploit the expanding tourist population, the vision of a rural enclave in the urban Bay Area is harder for politicians and their citizens to imagine, and the industry is finding that more money is to be made by providing wine-related experiences than from making wine. The importance of agriculture fades beyond its use as a stageset for TOT-paying visitors..

Update: 6/17/17
A neighbor just sent over a link to the latest Napa Life, Paul Fransons's weekly "insiders guide to the Napa Valley." The June 19th, 2017 issue is here. Scroll down to the section on "Lodging News". Below the summaries of the latest hotel projects in the Register he has a list of the projects currently in the approval and proposal pipelines. While I struggle to keep up on this site, as an insider he has a much better handle on these things. And it is a bit freightening.

Most freightening of all is the mention of a Ted Hall 80 room hotel in South St Helena (described in this 2015 NVR article). Ted Hall (recent profile here) is perhaps the most revered grower-vintner in the county, one of the few statesman in an industry filled with entrepreneurs. Each trip to the planning commission to present his winery projects turns into a lovefest (just as the hotel project did). He will probabaly make the most sensitive, ecological integration of agriculture and overnight accommodation it is possible to make. And he will set the precident for lesser lights to follow for the next phase of the "wine" industry in its transition to an entertainment industry. Now that the winery restaurant is firmly established as an acceptable "incidental and subordinate" use allowed at wineries, it is only a matter of time before the winery b&b begins to make its way into the definition of "agriculture" as well. A euphanism will have to be invented - "immersive agricultural experience" perhaps - to make sure no one would mistake a winery for a hotel. But with the precedent set by this most solid citizen of the County, every good-life entrepreneur will now want a hotel-of-their-own to go along with their winery.

Update: 6/8/17
Cohn LTE 6/8/17: Slow the stampede of development and his petition
And the concurrences:
Don and Arlene Townsend LTE 6/16/17: When is enough enough?
Lynn Korn LTE 6/12/17: Enough already
Barbara Cioppone LTE 6/8/17: All for the rich people

A lot of proposed Napa hotel projects in the news:
NVR 6/8/17: Cambria Hotel coming to Napa's Soscol Avenue
NVR 6/5/17: Napa Valley Wine Train owners plan $100 million resort development
NVR 6/2/17: Design of south Napa Marriott hotel leaves city planners cold
NVR 5/17/17: Altamira family reviving plans for a winery/hotel project on Silverado Trail
And other projects:
NVR 6/14/17: Napa approves 4-story building for Bounty Hunter wine bar, restaurant

Update: 2/20/17
NVR 2/20/17: Napa asks, How many hotel rooms are enough?
NY Times 2/1/17: A Waking Giant or a Monster? Developers Eye Once-Sleepy Napa

In the Times article Napa Vision 2050 is recognized nationally for its efforts to slow the urbanization of Napa County. Kudos to Harris Nussbaum and Patricia Damery.

Jim Wilson on the Napa Vision 2050 Economic Forum
It's exactly the effect we heard is coming at George Caloyannidis' Tourism Economy Forum in April of last year:

Samuel Mendlinger:
  • Tourism accelerates the polarization between the population and the very wealthy.
  • Polarization begins when businesses begin to cater to tourists and affluent locals at the expense of townsfolk.
  • Now a major social revolution: small group of elderly people and few young people.

    Q: Whose town is this anyway? What can community do so the power doesn’t get concentrated in the hands of a few?
    A: There are a few only. Locals are usually the last to get a voice in tourism development. Usually money does the talking. Local leaders who are wise enough know that the local people need to be part of the process. Most people don’t really know what their long-term needs are. Community groups need to have experience.

    Know what they’re doing, how to get things done, like NV2050. It’s what attracted me to this event in Napa. Hospitality is about cheap labor. Tourism is about value added.

    Q: Local schools close and students are sent out of town?
    A: Imbalance. Older population crowds out the younger people. Mis-managed tourism.. Petersborough losing its school system,, and its vertical, complete society. Declining school enrollment is a sign that either young adults don’t want to have children, or they don’t see a future in the town.

    Q: How do you organize the population?
    A: NV2050 is a great example. You’re anxious over the future, you’re organizing through people who can organize, and have the time and abilty to see things through. Then expand! It’s bottom up. Top down is very rare.

    Q: How do you recommend citizens get involved in decisions on smart tourism?
    A: Mendlinger: What is motivation for County and City political leaders to get involved? Do they want more development or a higher quality of life for citizens? If interested in business they won’t listen. But if you have wise leadership you’ll do the part of the job that improves the quality of life. Especially in Napa you have a great pool of experience and wisdom. It’s cosmopolitan not provincial. Political leadership has to listen to well-organized citizens who understand how real life works. Citizens can go far. Like this meeting where you have political leadership plus informed citizens. I traveled fro Boston to see how Napa is doing, and I am encouraged by the possibilities. Rural areas - resource extraction areas – when industry pulls out there’s not much reason for community to be there.

    Q: Advice on blasting open “iron triangle” government/agencies/industry?
    A: Mendlinger; How to develop experienced and wise leaders and citizens is the question. I just don’t know how.

Eben Fodor:
  • In an economic impact study, costs are just as important as revenues.
  • Too much tourism can overwhelm a community.
  • Impact studies usually tout all the benefits of a development. Fiscal impacts are often overlooked and no multipliers are used.
  • The reports that go out make the development look great but it’s not. There’s no balanced perspective with costs to the community.

Napa Vision 2050 Economic Forum: Understanding the tourism driven economy
George Caloyannidis' articles on growth and tourism
More on Napa City development here
More on Napa Growth Issues here

Comments


Daniel Mufson - Feb 1, 2017

Napa Vision 2050 was asked for perspective on the
state of development in Napa,
as detailed in a story for the New York Times.

Hello Napa Vision 2050 supporters,

Thank you for interest in the mission of Napa Vision 2050.
This past year, Napa Vision 2050 worked for a more effective and organized public voice with wider distribution. We did this to help get the perspective of those who live in our county, to be heard by those who are making decisions on growth and development in Napa County. Well, we are being heard nationally!
I’m attaching an article about Napa downtown just published in the New York Times. Napa Vision 2050's Harris Nussbaum and Patricia Damery are quoted while several more of our coalition members had been interviewed.

It is so satisfying that the article has a link to the Napa Vision 2050 webpage. Please share this with your contacts, and keep our momentum growing!
If only my Mom could see that: A boy from the Bronx makes the Times for doing something good!!

Shelle Wolfe - Feb 1, 2017

Vision 2050, among others, made the NY Times today. Interesting assessment of our situation. It would have been great if the article mentioned the traffic along with the other issues like parking.

Great comment by Patricia Damery… this is what we need to be communicating.

Ms. Damery said “I’m not anti-development,” she said. “I am for balanced development. Downtown is wonderful and so much better than before, but we have to invest in quality-of-life things like mass transit and housing.”

Carl Bunch - Feb 1, 2017

Well, for a very limited time in our lives (all to change as a result of the Presidential election) a government agency is treating its citizens fairly and appropriately and a major newspaper is highlighting the work of a citizens' group on the environment. This, to the great advantage to the citizens who reside here.

The St. Helena City Council, by a 3-2 vote (according to the Napa Valley Register) has actually rejected an application by a winery for expansion of its business. This City Council recently seated, due to a majority vote of St. Helena citizens, two new Council members, including Geoff Ellsworth, a leader in the fight to control the rampant approvals of virtually anything having to do with winery uses of Napa Valley land for the profits of its owners and stakeholders.

The New York Times, in a most important article, featured the work of Napa Vision 2050 regarding environmental issues raised by for-profit corporations and others and which seriously affect critical matters pertinent to Napa citizens, including, among others, watersheds, tree deforestation, and various matters tending to make the Napa Valley one of the world's most desirable places to live.

CONGRATULATIONS!! This has been a long time in coming and we can only hope it’s a harbinger of better things to follow.

Glenn J. Schreuder - Feb 2, 2017

Add another negative consequence to the list of all this economic progress.

SF already has a very low rate of families with kids. Looks like Napa is headed the same way. Maybe I’ll drive to the

central valley to watch a little league game in my retirement years. All this raises the question if Napa is really a good place to call home anymore. Where did all the little ones go?

Higher housing prices will trigger greater enrollment declines in Napa schools

Napa City's Oaks - Once they're gone, they're gone (updated)


Bill Hocker - May 4, 2017 8:46PM  Share #1229



Update 5/4/17
NVR 5/4/17: Possible Truchard winery, Napa Oaks subdivision developers clash

A clash between tourism urbanization and housing urbanization: The natural landscape of the county loses both ways. The Napa Oaks site should never have been incorporated into the city limits and the housing project is the infinitely more egregious insult to the rural character of the county. The site plan, which shows the tops of the hills being sheared off for building pads, is truly heartbreaking. Let's pray they lose the coming battle with their city neighbors to the east and the Truchards (who seem to be the county ideal of the family farm vintner) to the west. The housing developer's letter does just look like harassment in retaliation for the Truchard's opposition to their project. (The Truchard's opposition letter (at the bottom here), however, is a dead ringer for all of the letters we have written opposing tourism wineries these last 3 years). The best outcome, of course, would be for both to abandon their development plans in order to preserve "the sheer natural beauty of this place".

Napa Oaks II DEIR
Truchard documents Item 8B here

Update 3/1/17: Napa Oaks Development
The Greenbelt Alliance, an organization dedicated to preserving open space in an urbanizing world for 60 years, has just issued a 2017 report At Risk: The Bay Area Green Belt which features the Napa Oaks Project as open space under threat of development. (No mention of Walt Ranch?) More here from the Stop Napa Oaks group.

Stop Napa Oaks petition
Stop Napa Oaks Facebook Page

LTE 6/10/16: Development will have huge impact
LTE 5/4/16; A test of character
LTE 5/3/16: Don't destroy gateway to Napa
LTE 4/18/16: Development would scar the land
NVR 5/3/16: Homebuilder revives plans for rejected Napa development
Napa Oaks II DEIR
NVR 8/1/12: Neighbors demand study of Napa Oaks II hillside subdivision

In true developer fashion this project is named for the environment it destroys. (I grew up in an LA suburb called Sherman Oaks, none of which remained). A part of the oak studded hills that define the rural character of the Napa Valley is to be littered with suburban McMansions. The immediate question when looking at Google maps is why this parcel is within the city limits, surrounded as it is on 3 sides by identical county open space. Not as bad as the absurd Napa gerrymander of Stanly Ranch, but still one of those unfortunate bumps in the urban-rural line that just invites urban expansion into the countryside.

The battles of communities throughout the county these last two years to maintain what is left of Napa's rural character in the face of a resurgence in developer zeal and money has been both heartening, because the desire still exists to retain this place as separate from the rest of the suburban sprawl of the bay area, and discouraging in that governments seem ever more willing to sacrifice that character to developers' interests.


9/4/16: Anderson Ranch Development
Now a second housing project, by the same developer pursuing the Napa Oaks project, is proposed to carve up more of the few remaining Oak Hillsides within the city:
NVR 9/4/16: Planners endorse 37 east Napa homes despite privacy, tree concerns

Urban development and in-lieu fees (updated)


Bill Hocker - Jul 11, 2016 9:00AM  Share #1230

Update - NVR 7/11/11 Napa to lift parking requirements on six downtown properties
$20,000/stall is the amount mentioned as an in-lieu fee. Since the cost of parking structures is $30,000/stall (the $12 mil, 400 stall structure mentioned in the article) to $50,000/stall (if undergrounded as would be required on the exempted sites) at the $20,000 rate the city and residents will end up subsidizing the profits of the developer.

Update 7/6/16: on July 7th, 2016, the Napa City Planning Commission is reviewing a proposal for a parking exempt overlay on 6 more properties downtown, similar to the Wiseman building with in-lieu fees to be paid instead. The staff letter for the proposal is here. It is highly unlikely that the city will assess the $50,000/stall needed to actually build new parking garages and the residents of the city will be expected to make up the difference, thereby subsidizing developers' profits. In reality the projects will be built now but the parking garages will only come in the distant future (if at all) and parking problems will become a major issue in the city. An exhortation from Harris Nussbaum to attend the meeting is here.

---------------------------

NVR 8/1/16: Napa to seek more parking funds from downtown builders
NVR 4/19/16: Napa planners to weigh downtown buildings, senior home

Re: the Wiseman building, please look at this 2009 cost estimate for a parking structure (now apparently hidden after my link to it). The estimate was $30000 per stall excluding land costs.

The cost of an underground garage was $50000 per stall. If the developer actually were required to provide the parking on the site the costs would probably be higher given the necessity to integrate it into the architecture of the building. And this is 2016. The in lieu fee, rather than $15,500/ stall, should be the actual cost of providing the parking on site.

As in all development projects, whether for industrial or commercial developments or housing projects (or wineries) developers are quite happy to pay in lieu fees because those costs are much lower than actually meeting ordinance requirements or providing mitigations. Guess who pays the cost difference: taxpayers in one form or another. Regardless of the public revenues touted at the planning commission phase, as Volker Eisele said, development never pays for itself, never. Residents are saddled forever with fee increases, tax increases and bond measures to pay for the unfunded costs of urban development. The developers take their profits, including the money saved on parking, and move on to another project - which governments are eager to approve because they need the windfall of new in-lieu fees to pay for the infrastructure needed for previous projects.

This rant is not about this specific project, which appears to be an attractive addition to the downtown. But urban development is ultimately a costly undertaking for the residents that will eventually be asked to pay more to maintain it. And we never ask ourselves, are we interested in living in a more urbanized world and willing to pay for the privilege? For me, and perhaps for others that enjoy their quasi-ruaral life in Napa, the answer is no.

Oxbow tourist district


Bill Hocker - Nov 16, 2015 10:56AM  Share #890

A win-win for Justin Siena


Ginna Beharry - Jul 15, 2015 8:28PM  Share #902

See the article below for what seems to be a respectful resolution to the Justin Siena debate. Great to see the citizens making progress.

Justin-Siena drops shopping center plan, pursues senior center instead

Napa's new logo


Bill Hocker - Jul 1, 2015 12:00AM  Share #910

This is a very old piece of news but being confronted by the new logo today I had to weigh in.

NVR 6/10/14: Wanting an improved image, Napa will change logo (lots of comments)

I am alway a bit mystified when when someone feels a need to redesign a well-known logo. The logo's purpose is brand recognition - it's costly to rebuild that recognition; sometimes in never gets rebuilt. Was there a purpose in getting rid of Mobil's flying red horse? I'm not sure what their logo looks like now. (Of course being the most profitable corporation on earth they may not care what their logo looks like. But they may not have become so profitable without the horse.)

Anyway the city of Napa has a new logo and I again ask myself why. It is on the left. Next to it is the old logo. The old one is technically more accurate since most of the vineyards within the city limits are flat. I like the memorable use of the 2 typefaces in the title of the old one as well. And the restraint in the use of color. I don't quite see the point to the change other than to remove the church from the center of town life. Perhaps that was it - a church-state concern. And I don't think the new one carries an appropriate air of governmental authority - not that I'm into governmental authority.



When I heard about the change last year I decided to make my own proposal. I never submitted it - I don't know why. It was certainly a better reflection of the changes going on in the city. Maybe I should have eliminated the church.


Triad tries again


Bill Hocker - Mar 12, 2015 11:16PM  Share #696

How will Napa City deal with development impacts?


Bill Hocker - Feb 11, 2015 9:39AM  Share #623

Council retreat will look at big picture

This is an ominous quote from the article: "Council members will discuss strategies for increasing economic development, especially in downtown, and review the city’s long-term financial picture."

Development projects full steam ahead - a lot of fees to be made ( to help pay for the unfunded costs of previous projects, no doubt). The economy of the city seems to be thriving, the article adds, but thriving is obviously not good enough, more development is needed.

The Napa County General Plan has always been a punt on fending off development interests in the county. Leave our vineyards alone and you can do whatever you want in the municipalities is the attitude. But the kick-the-can-down-the-road policy has run out of road in the form of too much traffic and not enough water and yet all the developer-controlled city of Napa can think of is more development. The urban-rural dichotomy, designed to appease developer lust for those wide open spaces of the county, doesn't seem to acknowledge that urban development not only creates the impacts of traffic congestion in the rural areas, and the need for the endless suburban mitigations of more signals and more left turn lanes, but also continues to increase pressure to expand the urban rural lines and imports the urban voters necessary to allow that expansion to happen. How does Napa City see the county in 2050? It seems to be looking in the mirror.

Copia to get new developer


Bill Hocker - Feb 6, 2015 3:46PM  Share #607

Announcement of a buyer for Copia may occur soon

A major missed opportunity if Mr. Price & Co doesn't get this. Hopefully more steroidal developers will run into a buzz-saw of enlightened opposition just as Keith Rogal did in his Napa-Pipe-on-Oxbow proposal.

As has been suggested here and here Copia could and should be a major part of a revised wine and tourism equation that has spun out of control in the last few years. Tourism development is moving into the vineyards with many tourism event-centers now slated to pave over the vines. The nominal justification: the vintner needs to place his/her product into the hands of the drinker him/herself in order to turn a profit - direct to consumer. For many, DTC its just the economic excuse necessary to justify building a winery-of-ones-own as a symbol of aspiration to the good life - actually making money is something one does elsewhere.

It's time to end ego statements nibbling away at the vines, and confront the DTC excuse. If there are honest small winemakers that need hands-on DTC to survive, let it happen at the Grand Napa Wine Market located at Copia. It doesn't mean ending winery tours and tastings, but it does mean ending winery "marketing events", with their many community impacts, as a principal marketing tool. Using Copia as a major element of the small-label wine industry to reduce the desirability of vineyard-to-event-center conversions would be an eminently suitable use of this temple to wine. And all those 500-person banquets that wineries around the valley want to host - let them do it at Copia. Need a conference center to go with that new tacky downtown hotel? Copia's perfect. And the bewildered tourists milling around Oxbow Market wondering "Is this really Napa?" would have a wine tasting and buying experience to write home about right next door. Using Copia as a wine market and conference-event center is the right thing to do.

The Future of Napa - fast food and auto malls


Bill Hocker - Jan 21, 2015 11:53PM  Share #563

Commercial projects break ground on Gasser Foundation properties
Planners want a more 'Napaesque' car dealership

Another shopping mall with corny franchise buildings floating in a sea of asphalt. Another car lot. I keep wondering why the development along Soscol, the gateway to the city, has to be so strip-mallish. I bite my tongue while saying it, but why can't Napa be more like Walnut Creek. The new 'Micheal's' mall is, frankly, an instant piece of suburban blight. The Home Depot mall across the street is the archetype of franchise environmental destruction. And I have always wondered, in the 20 years I have been here, why the entry to a region of sophisticated, some might say overly taste-conscious, citizens would be a bunch of used car lots.

The answer: Peter A. Gasser.

Working on this website I learn something every day about the history of Napa that long time residents already know. But for those of us first generation residents the stories need to be retold. And one of the most important stories is laid out in great detail in the Gasser Foundation history.

I am critical on this site about the role that development (which I should begin calling 'growth' as a less loaded term) has played in diminishing the rural life that I came here to find. But growth is what America is all about, from its roots, and Peter Gasser was a prime, larger than life, exemplar of that history - perhaps even better than most in that philanthropy, boosterism and profit making seemed to be tied throughout his career, just as they are now in his legacy.

The many good works of the Gasser Foundation being acknowledged, I still look at the for-profit developments being done by the Foundation and ask, if urban development is going to happen in the city of Napa, is the best way to do it one franchise mall or car dealership after another.

I now pontificate on projects like Napa Center, Napa Pipe and Watson Ranch, because the survival of an agricultural economy, and my rural paradise on Soda Canyon Road, is not just threatened by specific projects - but by the impact of urban growth as a whole. Without greater protection than we now have on the books and more elected officials committed to that protection, urban growth will cover the vines.

I know I am being elitist, overly taste-conscious. I know that these major projects already close to fruition will not be stopped. It is sad. As a former architect, I know that the right designer can make a difference in the appropriateness of architecture for a specific place and context. The franchise design departments in Kansas city or wherever that decide what the urban fabric of Napa will look like don't care what the urban fabric of Napa looks like. I suspect that Peter Gasser would be promoting franchise malls if he were here and that these projects may be an accurate reflection of his character. But he's gone and times change. Napa should become a better city than it is becoming.

A 2007 article from the NVR: The goods on Gasser

I have just ordered this book: Napa: The Transformation of an American Town Required reading, I am guessing, for those concerned about the future of the city of Napa.

The future of the city of Napa


Bill Hocker - Jan 15, 2015 12:42PM  Share #543

Update NYTimes 2/1/17: A Waking Giant or a Monster? Developers Eye Once-Sleepy Napa

This site is about the future of the unincorporated areas of Napa County. But now that I have to peruse the Register every day to find out what new threat is being posed to our rural way of life, I can't help stumbling across municipal issues. The two are related, of course. The Napa County General Plan relegates to the municipalities the responsibility to house, and until recently to feed, the millions of tourists it is trying to attract to its wineries. With an ever increasing number of tourist event centers now being planned to occupy the vineyards, the need to accommodate tourists is the number one priority in the municipalities.

Two subjects of interest recently:

Condominium City

Napa plans study session to expand vacation rentals
Napa hosts debate on allowing more vacation rentals
Clarifying remarks on Napa vacation rentals

Has anyone considered the possibility that the entire housing stock of Napa, worth more to the city and to owners as short term rentals, might become just a collection of condos managed by a few large corporations? It gives a new meaning to bedroom community.

----------------------------

The Future of Napa Center



This video was just linked on the NVR. It is a very pleasant ride through the center of town, but while the video is great, the vision for the center of Napa is lousy. There is in fact no center to the town of Napa. The shopping center built in the 80's disastrously broke up the comprehensible grid of streets and the town has struggled to find itself ever since. Where is the grand rectangle of public space, like that in Sonoma or Healdsburg or San Francisco, that tells the weary traveller that they have arrived at the real center of the city?

The height and bulk of the new hotel makes us think that the the center is near. But we arrive to find only what, the maze of a shopping mall. The tallest building in a town generally tell us where the animating spirit of the population is. Tradtionally churches in most places, grain silos in farm country, skyscrapers in the profiteering capitals. In Napa it is obviously to be hotels. (Lets just hope the 10 million people don't arrive on the same day.)

The design of the hotel also does little to connote civic grander appropriate for a town center. Think of the St. Francis on Union Square or the Biltmore on Pershing square. This hotel and the new store next to it are styled in the tacky retro 50's pastiche that is now in fashion but will just as quickly become dated nonsense. It is a style that has nothing to do with the turn-of-the-20th century spirit of the town. Although it kills me to say it, the Disneyland Riverfront project does a better job of integration. Can Napa's future not be better than this?

--------------------------

City of Napa Logo

A while ago I remember reading in the Register that Napa was looking for a new logo. I don't know if they found one, but if not I would like to make a proposal:

Altamura articles


Carl Bunch - Dec 8, 2014 8:41AM  Share #493

Interesting articles in the Napa Register today: The City Council is "attacking" Altamura's proposal to develop a large "wine center" at the corner of Trancas and Silverado Trail (size, traffic noise, aesthetics, etc.) and he was found to be a likely party to the "fraudulent transfer" of $500,000 to the Uptown Theater, (owned by Altamura) from BR Festivals, the organizers of BottleRock in 2013, for the purpose of shielding that money from creditors' claims in BR Festival's bankruptcy proceedings.

City begins tackling Altamura wine center projectl
Uptown must return $500,000 to BR Festivals' creditors

Justin-Siena LTE


Bill Hocker - Nov 17, 2014 8:54AM  Share #453

Emphasis on wine tourism necessary for Copia's success


Dan McFadden - Aug 17, 2014 11:13AM  Share #317

[letter-to-the-editor published in the NVR on 08/20/14]

A Register article on July 11 by Janelle Wetzstein reports on the Planning Commission review of development plans by the Copia Liquidation Trust for conversion of the Copia building to mixed use including commercial office space. Napa will lose a major economic and cultural opportunity, and a distinctive landmark building, if this development proceeds. Napa Valley has become a world center for wine, an event that Copia was originally designed to celebrate, but is still struggling to balance wine tourism with the lives of its residents and the operations of its wine producers. Both the residents of Napa County and businesses in Napa city will gain if wine tourism, and its accompanying hospitality services, are concentrated in the city and along the Highway 29 corridor, rather than spread over the rural areas of the county. Could a new Copia become the focus for this?

While Copia’s previous incarnation was obviously not a viable business model, there is ample evidence that tourists will flock to facilities that provide the services they are looking for. Oxbow Market is one example, but a better example is how Beaune, at the heart of France’s Burgundy region, promotes its wines. At its center is the Marche aux Vins, located in the 15th century Cordelier Church, that offers visitors the opportunity to learn about, taste, and purchase wines ranging from vin du pays to the grand 1st cru Burgundies. Organized like an exhibition of wine, with an opportunity to sample the finest products of the region, rather than as a bazaar of individual tasting rooms, the Marche effectively promotes the large and small vintners and négociants that produce these wines. It is a destination for international wine tourism, and efficient marketing tool for the region’s wine producers. Readers can learn more from its website at http://www.marcheauxvins.com/.

What an asset it would be for Napa if Copia became a new world version of Marche aux Vins, encouraging wine tourists to come to the city to taste, eat, and stay. Napa vintners and the City of Napa will be the winners if they have the vision to negotiate development of the Copia property with an exposition of wine at its center, with affiliated restaurants, shops, and wine-related enterprises.



share this page