|Jul 28, 2015|
The landscape of a growth economy
"I feel that enactment of this ordinance reflects the wishes of the people of Napa County. I believe that these people wish to create for themselves the environment in which they wish to live and for future generations."
-Jack L. Ferguson, Napa Supervisor in approving the Ag Preserve, 1968
(e) Napa County is one of the smallest counties in California and within the County areas suitable for quality vineyards are limited and irreplaceable. Any project that directly or indirectly results in the removal of existing or potential vineyard land from use depletes the inventory of such land forever.
(f) The cumulative effect of such projects if far greater than the sum of individual projects. The interspersing of non-agricultural structures and activities throughout agricultural areas in excess of what already exists will result in a significant increase in the problems and costs of maintaining vineyards and discourage the continued use of the land for agricultural purposes.
-From the findings of the Winery Definition Ordinance, 1990
Uncontrolled urban encroachment into agricultural and watershed areas will impair agriculture and threaten the public health, safety and welfare by causing increased traffic congestion, associated air pollution and potentially serious water problems, such as pollution, depletion and sedimentation of available water resources. Such urban encroachment, or 'leap-frog development,' would eventually result in both the unnecessary, expensive extension of public services and facilities and inevitable conflicts between urban and agricultural uses.
-From the findings of Measure J, Agricultural Lands Preservation Initiative, 1990
While other Bay Area counties have experienced unprecedented development and urban infrastructure expansion over the last four decades, Napa County’s citizens have conscientiously preserved the agricultural lands and rural character that we treasure.
-From the vision statement of the Napa General Plan 2013
"Never in the history of mankind has agriculture withstood urban growth long-term, but here we have the best chance."
-Grape grower Andy Beckstoffer, 2015
"Once our open space is gone, it's gone."
-Supervisor Alfredo Pedroza, 2016
As this last year and a half [now 3 years] has progressed I originally thought that the winery being proposed next door to us on Soda Canyon Road had to do with wineries. I soon began to feel that the problem that brought it to my doorstep was tourism. As other communities have joined the rebellion against projects going on in their neighborhoods it is more and more apparent that while tourism is the growth industry and hence the most obvious source of many problems, the real problem is the continued urbanization of the bay area and city and county governments that are controlled, as they always have been, by development interests. "Growth" in Napa county really means just turning open space into buildings and pavement. And, because of the land use policies of the past 45 years, there is a lot of open space in Napa County to grow into.
As I write, there is a lot of development going on in the county. 70 new or expanded wineries have been approved but not yet built and 50 are in the planning department awaiting review (see here), 730 hotel or resort accommodations have been approved in Calistoga, St. Helena and Napa. 1576 new housing units have been approved in Napa and St. Helena with 1250 additional units being considered for American Canyon, (see here) and perhaps 3,000,000 sf of commercial/industrial space plus a Costco have been approved. (The full list is here.)
Do the citizens and governmental officials of Napa County wish this place to continue to be urbanized into the rest of the Bay Area in the next 50 years? If not, is there a way to stop it?
I have been reading lately: two very small books. The first is Better not Bigger by Eben Fodor, the Oregon based community development consultant. The second is the No-Growth Imperative by Gabor Zavanyi, professor of Urban and Regional planning.
The Fodor book, written in 1999 pushes a step beyond the "smart growth" or "sustainable growth" paradigm of the 1970's an 80's that promoted urban containment and led to the Urban-Rural-Limits that surround the Napa municipalities and have successfully prevented them from expanding into the vineyards. The book is a recognition through statistical analysis that development, even smart development , doesn't pay for itself. It doesn't pay for itself immediately in residential development that requires the additional road improvements, schools, police and fire services, water supply infrastructure, waste-water treatment facilities and government bureaucracy necessary for an increased population. And it doesn't pay for itself in commercial development, even with hefty sales taxes and fees (and in the case of a tourist economy, transient taxes), when the new employees create a demand for new budget consuming housing or highway improvements to commute to work. New commercial development may result in short term gains for a town, selling points at the planning commission stage, but in the long run will always end up costing existing residents money to deal with the impacts. Ask yourself, are utility costs and service fees higher in small towns or cities? Will your government spend more money maintaining the infrastructure necessary for a 5 acre vineyard or a 5 acre Costco?
The No-Growth Imperative was written in 2013, and makes the same arguments but with the added knowledge, courtesy of the effects of global warming increasingly more evident around us, that continued population growth is not sustainable. And that it is time to end the growth-is-progress mentality that continues to consume resources and exude wastes as if there is no downside.
Both advocate community efforts to limit local urban development. Both recognize that continued growth is unsustainable and that it is time to find a way to create a stable economy that creates stable environments. Maintaining such a community won't solve the problems of world population growth, and the pressure of the increasing world population to migrate to those places that have been more successful in curbing their population or with more space to populate. That is a problem of world wide family planning which would be possible, just as preventing smallpox or polio has been, were it not for the intransigence of religious dogma. (The catastrophic effects of religious dogma are much in the news these days.)
Much of this site is dedicated to the proposition that urban development in Napa County is not compatible with the desire of the county general plan to retain agriculture as the engine of the county's economy or with the county residents' desire to retain a rural, small-town quality of life. The growth includes new urban development, mostly tourism related, in the municipalities as well as the unincorporated areas as well as the infrastructure and accommodation development necessary to deal with the increasing tourist, resident and workforce population that results.
Not everyone in Napa county would look to Andy Beckstoffer as a touchstone, but his quote above, more susinctly than anything I have read, states why Napa should be a place where a no-growth movement can bud and set a precedent for other communitites, just as it did for the agricultural preserve movement. Napa produces a unique world-respected product based on a low impact, renewable resource. It has the potential to continue producing that product for centuries, as french vintners have done, if a decision is made to protect the resource and to stop the urban development that threatens it. An economy that depends on ever increasing profits or a never ending number of participitants will build itself beyond what the resource can support, the resource will become incidental to the economy and more profitable development will take its place.
It may be difficult to see amid the green vine rows at present but it is already happening in the Napa Valley. Each new tourism oriented winery and parking lot plopped down in a vineyard moves the county toward a suburban future that will survive on tourist events and accommodations. The desire for wine profits beyond those the resource can provide will mean an ever greater quantity of imported grapes further reducing the importance of retaining napa ag land.
The never ending cycle of urban development requiring ever more development to pay for its impacts will not be stopped unless the will and means are found to allow and defend a stable, and livable no-growth economy limited by the resource available.
Better not Bigger Eben Fodor
No-Growth Imperative Gabor Zavanyi
2008 General Plan EIR Archive
2008 General Plan
Land Use Element of Napa General Plan
Greenbelt Alliance: At Risk: The Bay Area Greenbelt
Map and table of all development currently underway in the valley
Napa County's list of projects under development
American Canyon's list of projects under development
Napa City's list of projects under development
Calistoga's proposed and approved projects link
Wine and Water Watch 7/28/17:Judge Rules Climate Action 2020 Plan Violates CEQA
Harris Nussbaum LTE 6/23/17: Let's all work together
Rusty Cohn LTE 6/8/17: Slow the stampede of development and his petition
James Conaway blog, Nose 5/26/17: What our lifestyle vintner-in-chief does to us all
NVR 3/24/17: Napa County population grows by less than 1 percent
NVR 3/8/17: Napa County LAFCO pondering its role in shaping county's future
NVR 2/27/17: Wine country growth within general plan numbers
NVR 2/4/17: Greenbelt Alliance has praise and warnings for Napa County
NVR Setty LTE 3/1/17: Napa is a city after all
NVR 2/10/17: County juggling housing, history at Old Sonoma Road site
NVR 2/8/17: Napa County leaders try to sort out Carneros Resort water issues
NVR 2/4/17: Greenbelt Alliance has praise and warnings for Napa County
NVR 1/31/17: High housing prices trigger greater enrollment declines in Napa schools
NVR 7/9/16: Napa sees farmland total shrink slightly over two years
NVR 3/17/16: Despite protest, sewer board approves rate hikes
NVR 2/26/16: Sewer district presents rate hike information
NVR 2/10/16: New growth ahead for American Canyon
NVR 2/7/16: Napa economy shines in 2015
NVR 2/7/16: Wine industry rules in south couty industrial area
George Caloyannidis LTE 12/13/15: Hodja's Donkey in Napa Traffic
George Caloyannidis LTE: Alice's Traffic solutions
Steven Rodriguez LTE: We need a cap on developed areas
NVR 10/14/15: Construction begins at new Commerce Center in south Napa
NVR 10/1/15: American Canyon planners praise mega business park
NVR 9/9/15: Growing demand sparks construction of single-family homes
Who pays the costs of growth?
Patterson LTE 8/5/15: Development is destroying Napa Valley
SR Press Democrat 3/12/15: Investors spending millions to develop Calistoga resorts
NVR 3/4/12: Measure J made Napa County voters protectors of agricultural lands
Eben Fodor 2012: Myth of Smart Growth
Even Fodor 2010: Relation between growth and prosperity in 100 largest US Metro Areas
Eben Fodor 1998: The Fordor analysis summary of unfunded development costs
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How far do we go to save humanity?
Hotels spill into the vineyards
Let's all work together
|Harris Nussbaum - Jun 23, 2017 3:40PM Share
I don't want to talk about any one development, but to express a concern for the future of this great community.
The Board of Supervisors, City Council, and Planning Commissions are our friends and we look to them to protect us and Napa. I'm not against all development and appreciate the contributions the wine industry and other businesses have made, but I am concerned about the unlimited pace at which development is happening.
Our economy is already overheated and finding workers is becoming a problem. Even with normal business cycles recession will come again, what will happen then or with an over-inflated economy?
1) I appreciate and enjoy many of the events that are taking place downtown and not saying we shouldn't have them, but the day before BottleRock it took me two hours to return home from Sonoma. Traffic can be a nightmare in and out of Napa a great deal of the time, and in all directions, not just for special events.
2) There is no way to build enough affordable housing to solve the problem and they aren't affordable to most of our residents. Locals are being forced to move away and local businesses are closing.
3) I hope everyone is aware of the impact this is having on our schools? Enrollment is going down because people with families can't afford to live here. Schools are being closed, programs are cancelled, support services are being reduced and over a hundred teachers are being laid off this year alone. This will continue into the future. The future education of our youth will be at risk.
4) It sometimes seems that houses are being converted to vacation rentals faster than they are being built and I question if they can be adequately supervised.
5) The problem isn't just with the city or county -- it is both. Somehow we need to find a way to work together and to help bring people with different views together. The problem is all of ours. I think we all have something to lose if we don't.
6) There are hotels and other projects proposed, being built or on the way: Town Center, 90-room Cambria Hotel, a five-story hotel at the Wine Train, Meritage’s 133-room expansion, Marriott’s 250-rooms, a resort at Stanley Ranch, multiple hotels at the Oxbow area, an Embassy Suites addition. This in addition to Napa Pipe’s 800 homes, Gasser Foundation’s 400 housing units and more and more and more. Each development with low salary jobs will require many outside workers and a car on the road. I have been told that the Archer Hotel alone will employ over 100 people and how many does the Andez have?
7) One of our leaders said, "We should be like Carmel", but we aren't. They have almost all one- and two-story buildings and slower growth, not the tall buildings being built and proposed here and with no parking.
8) I could go on about parking, water, police, fire, roads and other problems that are being created. I hope our leaders and all of the community will read the article by James Conway where he talks about the current level of development not being economically supportable due to the requirements of infrastructure and on-going maintenance.
9) What can we do? Take a step back. Slow it down a little and make sure the infrastructure is in place before approving more hotels, more wineries, more tall buildings, more of everything. What we have now seems to have little oversight. Napa is a jewel that can and will be destroyed if we allow the pressure of large sums of money to blind us. What is the rush? Consider the cumulative impact.
I urge the city and county to work together. Create the opportunity for concerned citizens to have equal opportunities to be heard and for opposing views to have the chance to meet and work together for the good of the overall community. It is time for all of us to get involved -- learn more, talk with our leaders to express your concerns, become a part of the solution.
NVR LTE version 6/23/17: Let's all work together
Slowing urbanization: the petition
May 3, 2017 at the Planning Commission
|Bill Hocker - Apr 28, 2017 11:15AM Share
From the SCR Calendar
May 3rd, 2017 County Planning Commission
Agenda and Documents
8A Flora Springs Winery Major Mod
26900 more vis/yr, 11 more employees, water and sewer upgrades to accommodate more people and more food.
8B Truchard Winery New Use Permit
100,000 g/y, 17900 vis/yr, 6-10 employees, setback variance
8C Beautiful Day Winery New Use Permit
30,000 g/y, 21300 vis/yr, 10 employees
8D Poetry Inn driveway road exception
"This existing road serves an Inn, an un-built approved winery, an existing residence and a replacement residence with its proposed second unit and guesthouse." How much urban development is possible on agriculture-watershed land? What will Napa look like when all 4500 parcels are so developed? How many exceptions and variances will be made to make it possible?
This upcoming planning commission meeting is a good window into the future of Napa County. The three winery projects being reviewed and the one that will become feasible with the road exception represent:
- at least 66,100 new visitor slots to be filled meaning perhaps 22,000 more visitors/yr to be accommodated by county infrastructure and services
- 28-36 more employees driving to work each day and needing affordable housing
- 142,000 gal/yr of unnecessary processing capacity to make wine already being made elsewhere in the county.
Just one day's work for the Planning Commission.
If all are approved it will be a notable but not extraordinary addition of urban building projects in the ag zones. After preservationists' defeat at APAC and the election of development oriented Supervisors last year, the county has been on a push to draw down the large backlog of building use permits and modifications being requested. Can they do it faster than new projects are being submitted? Prior to this hearing, the Planning Commission has approved 7 new wineries and 9 major winery modifications this year, more, as the planning director seemed to boast at a recent hearing, than in all of 2016. They represent about:
- 85,000 more visitor slots, meaning perhaps 28,000 more visitors to the county each year
- 150-160 more employees on the roads and looking for affordable housing.
- 270,000 gal/yr of additional unnecessary capacity to make wine already being made elsewhere in the county
Dan Mufson got up at the Supervisors strategic retreat
on Apr 24 th with a simple recommendation to begin to address the affordable housing issues (and the traffic issues) that everyone, even the Supes, now sees as the lamentable future of the county: stop building wineries. The same amount of Napa wine will be sold each year whether theses projects are built or not. And some of the County's service costs to deal with the ever increasing tourism population will be curbed. It should be a no-brainier.
The Poetry Inn road exception request was an unexpected addition to he agenda. It shows the limits that the county may be willing to go to insure that all 4500 10+ acre parcels of land in the county's ag preserve and ag watershed zones can be maximized to their urban development potential. Vineyards may survive in the county, as vanity statements of the good life, but the price to be paid will be 3 houses and a showpiece winery on each parcel to cater to a burgeoning tourist population. Most will require setback variances and road exceptions to be feasible.
As with the Caves at Soda Canyon this would appear to be a totally inappropriate site for an industrial facility, up a road with substandard curves and in this case with a slope exceeding 22%.
And 'A determination was made that the winery use permit was "used" on April 15, 2017.' - 2 weeks before this hearing? Normally there is a 2 year sunset period on use permits if they are not "used". What's going on here?
And the Poetry Inn, a hotel, apparently built on ag land in the mid 2000's based on a b&b that may have been created in the 1990's? The 1983 General Plan allows only agricultural processing (and accessory activities) and farm labor housing. "No other use or development of a parcel located in an agricultural area shall be permitted unless it is needed for the agricultural use of the parcel." What is the story with this developer and why is none of this history at least mentioned in the agenda letter?
This meeting should be about more than just road exceptions.
2008 General Plan EIR Archive
Greenbelt Alliance and the Ahwahnee Principles
Standard Conditions of Approval at the BOS (updated)
|Bill Hocker - Mar 7, 2017 3:06PM Share
The Standard Conditions of Approval for wineries were approved by the Supervisors with only one change required by Richard Mendenhall, lawyer for the Napa Valley Vintners: deleting the word "original" from the expression
"At least 75% of the grapes used to make the winery’s wine at the winery shall be grown within Napa County. [ADD THE FOLLOWING STATEMENT IF A PRE- WDO WINERY: provided that this requirement does not apply to the winery’s original __________ gallons of production that were approved prior to the adoption of the Winery Definition Ordinance.]"
Wineries may have added new capacity to their "original" capacity before the 1990 WDO, and it must be clear that the added capacity is also exempt from the 75% rule. Insuring grandfathered rights seems to be the principal function of industry lawyers whenever county changes are proposed.
The Farm Bureau's Cio Perez brought up the issue that retail sales of wine should be included in the SCofA as a by-appointment function. Mr. Mendenhall, as he did previously (see original 8/5/16 post below), was adamant in stating that the WDO did not require appointments for the retail sales of wine at a winery. Drop-in liquor stores are OK in the ag zones.
No discussion was given to the Standard Conditions of Approval for Other Projects or Special-Area Projects which were also approved. Wine is all anyone seems to care about in Napa County.
The Standard Conditions of Approval for development projects in the county, approved by the Planning Commission on Dec 21st 2016, will be reviewed and possibly adopted by the Board of Supervisors on Tues. Mar 7th.
Agenda Letter is here
PBES has just released updated Standard Conditions of Approval for non-residential development in the county with markups of changes made since the Aug 3, 2016 presentation to the Planning Commission:
Hello Regular Customers of Napa County Planning, Building and Environmental Services,
On August 3, 2016, staff presented the following new set of proposed standard conditions for Commission consideration and recommendation to the Board of Supervisors: (1) Winery projects; (2) Other Non-Residential/Residential projects; and (3) Specific Plan Area (Napa Valley Business Park) projects in an effort to make the conditions more streamlined and triggered by project milestones. In response to the comments received by stakeholders, the general public and elected/appointed officials, staff requested a continuance of this item to allow additional time to address comments received to date before the Commission makes its final recommendation. Furthermore, staff presented a proposed outline of how the conditions would be reorganized in order to get consensus from the Commission and the public on the new format before updating the draft standard conditions and presentation to the Commission for final consideration. A copy of this outline is also attached for your review and staff was directed to follow this outline when updating conditions.
Attached, please find the revised proposed changes in “tracked change” format which staff will be bringing to the Planning Commission on December 21st for review and recommendation to the Board of Supervisors. Please note that the staff report, revised proposed draft conditions, and prior public comments for this item will be posted on the County website by December 14th. Upon completion of the Commission’s review, the recommended Standard Conditions will be presented to the Board in January/February for their consideration and adoption. Please note that Commission and the Board of Supervisors will take public testimony on this item.
Once again, the proposed wording of the Standard Conditions have been modified to standardize language, ensure consistency and clarity, and to avoid any duplication. Furthermore, Staff has standardize project specific conditions that have been applied to projects over the years, and have added conditions from the Building Division and Fire Department to provide more information regarding the permitting process and expectations when applying for such permits.
As for any significant changes, staff has proposed new language for the “Ground Water Management – Wells” in response to stakeholder comments, as well as, modified other conditions to respond to stakeholder/public comments with exception to those requested changes that would incorporate new policy direction for projects. Lastly, Staff modified the proposed condition and procedure that would carry over previous conditions of approval for Major Modification applications only at this time based upon Commission direction received on August 3rd.
If you have any questions, comments or suggested changes, please contact me.
Napa County Planning, Building, & Environmental Services Department
Markup Draft Winery Conditions of Appproval
Markup Draft Other-project Conditions of Approval
Markup Draft Special-plan-area Conditions of Approval
At the Aug 3rd 2016 Planning Commission Meeting Senior Planner Charlene Gallena presented her revisions of the the county's standard conditions of approval for winery projects (in addition to the conditions for other development projects) submitted to the planning department. These are the conditions that applicants can expect to be imposed when they submit their applications for approval. Normally this would be somewhat boring stuff, the very definition of boilerplate. But, of course it becomes very important boilerplate considering the contentiousness of winery development in the county.
The proposed conditions of approval are here
The County 8/3/16 PC agenda item 10A with links to documents and the staff report is here.
The NVV's lawyer, Richard Mendenhall raised some points about the winery conditions, one of which set off some bells. The new standard conditions of approval regarding wine sales stated that "Retail sales shall be limited to only those persons visiting by appointment or attending marketing events. No drop-in retail sales shall be permitted." This is entirely consistent with the fact that tours and tastings have been allowed at wineries only by appointment in new use permits since 1990. Mr. Mendenhal sought to remind everyone that wine sales have never been restricted by the "by appointment" provision ot the WDO. I don't know if anyone else was struck by this revelation but I was immediately agog. (Much as I was finding out that the supervisors and mayors could agree to city annexation of county land without the voter approval required under Prop P).
A whole bunch of questions were suddenly raised. Anyone at any time can drive into every winery in the county to buy wine. How does the county monitor whether a patron is a buyer or a taster? Is someone buying wine not allowed to sample the goods? How does a neighbor know whether the vans arriving next door are there to taste wine or just to buy it? Are people who buy a bottle at a winery and then drink it at a picnic table buyers or tasters? It makes the "appointment only" provision a bit meaningless. And it opens an entirely new strategy to reduce the barriers meant to keep a rural industry from being overwhelmed by urban commerce. Does it matter whether the winery is being used as a bar or as a liquor store when it comes to neighborhood impacts?
Most interestingly, Mr. Mendenhal wished not to discomfort the commissioners with this revelation by pointing out that the number of people dropping into a winery just to buy wine would be very small, so no problem. He didn't think it so small, however, to think it not worth mentioning. So when it comes to the direct-to-consumer function of wineries, so touted as the reason that the modern winery with its neighborhood impacts is built, it is not being built to sell wine to visitors but only to sign them up on a wine club list?
(As an aside, in a somewhat interesting admonition to the department, Mr. Mendelson advised not repeating a lot of verbiage in the document and "don't restate the law, just refer to it." It is interesting in that an entire legal case is being built against the county in regard to the county's invalidation of the Watershed Protection Ordinance for the November ballot on the basis that one document was referenced rather than reprinted in the initiative.)
|Gary Margadant - Aug 31, 2016 3:46PM |
The Planning Department is revamping the Conditions of Approval (COA) and the subject will return to the Planning Commission in October. First Blush was 8/3/16, second meeting scheduled for 9/7/16 but this will be pushed into October. A notice to stakeholders will be out very soon.
Funny, but the main comments have come from NVV and NVGG. Stakeholders - Architects, Engineers, planners, etc. have yet to offer feedback.
The COA, if helpful with direction to the owner and Stakeholders and should include references to County Code and other directives that help the reader interpret and act on the Conditions of their USE Permits. Especially for the employees of the Planning Dept (including enforcement): Their efficiency, clarity and time is our money and their reputation.
Ease of communication and enforcement should be the guiding goals of the new COA, something supported by the Industry Groups, see the attached letter.
The COA is in 3 parts, Winery, Non-Winery and Other. I have included the Winery portion. The other parts are available at Item 10A:
Date: Wed, Aug 31, 2016 at 5:03 PM
Subject: Napa County Development Process - Standard Conditions of Approval Update for Discretionary Projects (Status Update)
From: "Gallina, Charlene"
Cc: "McDowell, John" , "Morrison, David"
Hello Regular Customers of Napa County Planning, Building and Environmental Services,
On August 3, 2016, the proposed Standard Conditions of Approval Update for Discretionary Projects were presented to the Planning Commission for their recommendation to the Board of Supervisors. Based upon public testimony received, the proposed new outline for organization of Standard Conditions, and direction by the Planning Commission, staff recommended at this meeting that this item return to the Commission on September 7th. To date, staff is still working on revisions to the standard conditions and has been meeting with stakeholders to address issues associated with this revision and will not have this item ready for the September 7th meeting. To accommodate this work effort, it is likely that staff will be returning to the Planning Commission sometime in October. Once I have a designated meeting date, I will sent out notification.
If you have any question, please contact me or John McDowell.
Vallejo Cement Factory (updated)
Declining health of Napa County
|Donald Williams - Jan 23, 2017 7:36AM Share
Apparently, Napa County, famous tourist destination and wine brand, is the picture of prosperity.
If only wealth were a measure of health.
For profound health, the ancient maxim emphasizes identity: know thyself. Napa County’s identity is agricultural and rural. Its health is predicated on farming and its natural landscape. Traffic and excessive tourism (think film festivals, races, concerts, cooking classes) subvert its identity. Cheating on identity betokens an identity crisis: a fatal malady.
But Napa is in denial about its incorruptibility. Thus, its credibility also suffers. Visitors’ bureaus chatter about Napa’s charming small towns and lovely landscape---unbelievably as traffic grinds on Highway 29 and chain saws prepare to hack trees by the thousands in Calistoga.
Yet Napa’s debasement of its own identity is embarrassingly well-known: In November the New York Times called Napa Valley a “very touristy wine region,” and as an alternative enthused that Paso Robles is “what Napa was before it was discovered.” Even the mayor of nearby Sebastopol decried encroaching “Napafication” like a plague. Meanwhile, the board of supervisors can offer rosy economics.
The wine industry is impressive. But with the supervisors’ blessing it’s spawned rampaging tourism---an average of 9,000 visitors per day in 2014. Last year witnessed more supervisors-sponsored decline in the well-being of Napa County.
For example: After hearing scores of locals’ complaints about the loss of our semi-rural character at a jam-packed day-long meeting of over 400 citizens, in 2016 the supervisors---under pressure from the wine industry---weakened its own committee’s already-modest recommendations to mitigate encroaching urbanization. What an empty exercise in futility that day-long meeting was.
Last year, new county supervisors were elected. But there’s little hope of them standing up to incessant wine-tourist industry expectations of favorable treatment.
There’s more. In the hills above Napa, the board’s approval of Walt Ranch vineyards (with the possibility of luxury housing) and the obliteration of thousands of trees was nearly a foregone conclusion, despite highly competent criticism of the environmental impact report. The overmatched Circle Oaks neighbors hardly stood a chance.
Nor, worried about the grand expansion of the Syar operation, did neighbors there find support from their elected representatives.
Continuing the relentless indulgence, in 2016 the supervisors’ Planning Commission awarded permits to wineries for approximately 270,000 more visitations by tourists. Also it approved over 20 new or expanded wineries. The environmental impact reports for these projects routinely describe them as having no significant adverse effect---oblivious of their disastrous cumulative effect, as George Caloyannidis has pointed out. Cumulative effects are part of the big picture the supervisors are charged with controlling. Instead they seem to inhabit a magical wonderland where you can build endlessly and stay forever rural.
Well over 40 projects await the Planning Commission’s approval this year.
Frustrated at their county leaders’ amiable acquiescence to development, volunteers on their own initiative easily gathered signatures to limit destruction of the county’s oak woodland. It was opposed by special wine industry interests. A judge kept it off the ballot on a technicality: another empty exercise in public participation.
There were a few bright spots in 2016. The supervisors rezoned a small contested area in Angwin. And the citizens of St. Helena, with unexpected brio, actually replaced two incumbent council members. St. Helenans also responded quite coolly to proposals for a big tourist development in the center of town---showing, unlike neighboring Calistoga, refreshing reluctance to sell their soul.
But St. Helena alone cannot arrest the county’s demise. With supervisors sympathetic to wine and tourist industry development, the prognosis for the patient looks bad. So to maintain the illusion of health, hucksters will shamelessly proclaim Napa’s rural beauty---incongruously brimming with alcohol-fueled traffic. Soon what’ll be offered is just the relic of a rural valley, swarming with tourists and propped up like a scarecrow to fool the city folk that it’s genuine.
Honoring Napa’s true semi-rural identity is the path back to health (not just transitory wealth) -- if only county leaders honestly walk it and don’t just talk it.
The era of the developer is upon us, part 2
|Bill Hocker - Dec 31, 2016 10:14AM Share
NVR 12/31/16: Register reporters anticipate the big stories of 2017
The two urban areas of the county are in for some big development in the coming year, an appropriate trend in the era of Trump. To me the most heartbreaking part of the plans is the return of parking meters to downtown. Since coming to Napa 22 years ago, one of the true signs that I was now part of a rural community was the free parking at its urban core. Downtown Berkeley (we still reside most of the week there) has become a shopping dead zone because of the enormous amount of building over the last decade (and more to come). That development has of course made parking spots unavailable, causing the city in its wisdom to raise meter fees (now up to $3.75/hr) in an attempt to increase turnover and, and of course, pricing out shoppers who now head for other parts of the city to shop (particularly 4th street with its free parking).
Unfortunately for those who envision a more ecological (perhaps über-based) future, free parking is still the life blood of any successful retail business. Also, unfortunately, parking meters are the sure sign that a rural, small town is being urbanized out of existance.
NVR #1: Wine industry under fire!
|Bill Hocker - Dec 30, 2016 8:32PM Share
NVR 12/30/16: No. 1 story of 2016: Wine industry under fire
The title is perfect (or not
). At the heart of all of the resident-industry battles over the last 3 years - Woolls Ranch, Yountville Hill, Callistoga Hills, Raymond, Girard, Palmaz, APAC, Walt Ranch, Syar, and many others - is the truth that many residents of the county no longer support the wine industry becuse the industry no longer respects their interest in a desirable place to live. The "wine industry" has become an excuse, a cover, for an exploding tourism industry invading residential communities both urban and rural, and for a real estate industry profiting off a surge in clearcut estate properties and winery venues, and a development industry eager to build it all.
The successful rural economy of Napa county was created by resident-vintners concerned about the quality of their communities as well as the health of their industry. But as is often pointed out, the wine industry has changed. It is now about corporations concerned with the expansion of their brand portfolio and empresarios concerned with the expansion of their entertainment empires and plutocrats concerned with expressions of their wealth, all hoping to squeeze out extra profits from resident-impacting visitation. The opposition of residents will, I suspect, continue until the industry begins to seek increased profits in ways other than dragging hudreds of thousands of tourists into the county - or until the residents, already diminishing in the upper municipalities and the valley floor, are gone.
The era of the developer is upon us
|Bill Hocker - Dec 27, 2016 11:50AM Share
At the final Planning Commission Meeting of 2016, Director Morrison gave a recap of the projects reviewed by the Commission during the year. The list included 32 projects. Among them: Reynolds, Frog's Leap, Stag's Leap, Summers, Dakota Shy, SMR, Bouchaine, Caymus, APAC, American Glass, Canard, Opus One, Feather Horse, Mahoney, Sodhani, Mountain Peak, Napa Vault, Taylor, Yountville Hill, Kenzo, Definition of Agriculture, Sleeping Giant, Beau Vigne, Chanticleer, Jessel Prime, Palmaz, Yountville Washington, Sleeping Lady, and Etude.
"Did we do all that?", Chair Basayne remarked voicing the satisfied surprise of Comms. Scott and Gill as well. Prior to this expression of satisfaction in surmounting a heavy workload, Chair Basaye had previously noted the work yet to be done and that the Commission would be "stepping up the pace" in the coming year. There are currently some 60 projects
on the Planning Commission's docket, with Mountain Peak scheduled to be the first project of 2017.
Most of the projects the Commission took on this year were wineries. All were approved, save a few, like Mountain Peak, continued for a decision this next year. The approvals included, by my count, 273,000 new tourist slots, somewhat over the average/yr for the last few years based on the planning department's breakdowns here
. Looking at the planning department's breakdown shows that after the changes in the WDO in 2010 the rate of visitation requests rises dramatically from previous averages. (The 2007 number is grossly inflated by one approval: 444,000 vis/yr for the Castello di Amorosa, now the face of Napa's alcoholic Disneyland
. In fact, Domaine Carneros and the Castello di Amorosa have set the glitz standard for plutocrat fantasies and corporate profit boosting, and the demand for projects with ever more impactful visitation may have been upon us with or without changes to the WDO.)
From the standpoint of those of us who see continued building construction as an inevitable loss to the rural character that we treasure in Napa County, the exortation to "step up the pace" of approvals after this surprizingly productive year was not very satisfying at all. Although we often cite a "tipping point" in talking about projects about to be approved, the point at which the vineyards will eventually be replaced by building projects has probably already occurred. If it did not happen during the 2008 changes to the general plan which lumped the marketing of wine (tourism) into the same definition of agriculture
as the growing of grapes and the production of wine, if it was not the 2010 revision to the WDO that allowed wineries to become defacto restaurants and event centers
, if it was not the lack of support in 2016 for any meaningful restraint in tourism development by the Supervisors in their evisceration of the APAC proposals
, if it was not the Supervisors rejection in 2016 of three major attempts to reign in urban growth in the county (the woodland initiative
, Walt Ranch
, and Syar
), if it was not the election in 2016 of three supervisors committed to a "pro-growth" agenda, then surely the tipping point is just the inescapable momentum of a society in which buliding developers have become the rulers of our environment, our hopes, our lives and our future.
Jobs increasing faster than employees (updated)
|Bill Hocker - Nov 19, 2016 9:42AM Share
Update NVR 11/19/16: Napa restaurants making extra effort to find workers
Glenn Schreuder just sent this article in the North Bay Business Journal:
NBBJ 9/30/16: Record Napa Valley hospitality job openings challenge employers
A main argument propounded on this site is that the hundreds of construction projects being approved in the county will create more commuting employees, requiring more urban infrastructure and services and place greater pressure for housing development in a never ending cycle of urbanization that will leave Napa county looking like the rest of the Bay Area in the next generation.
Based on the above article, I may have been wrong. Given the jobs boom occurring everywhere at present, the hassle of commuting to Napa Valley to work is apparently not worth it. And as I've said before, affordable housing in Napa is a pipe dream
This lack of desire on the part of employees to work in Napa may presage another trend that has also been mentioned before
: the incredible expansion of tourism venues now approved and scheduled to be built in the next decade may suffer the same reluctance by visitors who also don't want the hassle of gridlocked traffic and overpriced digs.
Napa County, thinking the attractive charm of a rural agricultural community can be visited by the world without the charm being destroyed, is rapidly building itself into a box. It appears we are headed for the worst possible outcome - turning a rural environment and way of life that has proven economically viable into an urban environment that can't support itself.
|Mike Hackett - Sep 30, 2016 10:01AM |
All minimum wage jobs for people that have to commute. The corporations have stolen our valley. This ongoing master no-plan sucks.
|Glenn J. Schreuder - Sep 30, 2016 9:59AM |
Hello, like this wasn’t a completely predictable course of events!
Our “industry-leaning” local governmental bodies are gradually turning the Napa Valley into a parking lot
The North Bay Business Journal is a great source of information regarding the economic issues the county faces which I think could be referred to as the “Napa Valley yield management equation”.
All these issues are related, you can bet they see they need more concrete…
Save Rural Angwin (updated)
|Bill Hocker - Nov 1, 2016 5:58PM Share
NVR 11/1/16: County moves to resolve Angwin growth issues
Pacific Union College seems to never stop roiling the peace and serenity of the community that has settled around it. Like all educational institutions, I suppose, in a nation that seems to be losing interest in an educated citizenry, they need money. But they have a lot of land. Ergo, much of the rural character that the college has provided for the residents of Angwin over the last century is now for sale, to be converted to something less rural. Angwin residents have battled for years over the prospect of new housing projects in their midst. Sometimes with success. Sometimes not, as in the 2012 measure U
. The housing issue is scheduled come up again in the near future. But this time it's a few big homes homes and a lot of forest clear cutting for vines, on $10 million properties destined for 5 plutocrats of the world needing a wine label of their own.
Save Rural Angwin
is probably the oldest neighborhood group in the county, dedicated, like all those that have come since, to protecting the rural character of their communities against the development interests perpetually attempting to convert the natural and agrarian landscape to more profitable use.
NVR 5/9/16: Angwin in the bull's-eye
NVR 10/13/12: Land war erupts in Angwin
NVR 7/3/07: Angwin group opposes PUC development plan
Blakeley: Where will it happen next?
|Donald Williams - Mar 27, 2016 7:49AM Share
The unfortunate Blakeley Construction situation may be understood as a logical consequence of the heightened emphasis on tourism that has gripped Napa County ("Blakeley Constriction must vacate agriculturally zoned land,
" Jan. 27).
Blakeley Construction, located just outside Calistoga for more than half a century, family-operated, is well-respected for both its work ethic and its community involvement. It’s a company deeply connected to this land and its people. However, upon a complaint from a recent neighbor about their operation and zoning rules, the county fined Blakeley and stipulated they eventually cease operations there.
Meanwhile, Reverie Winery, also just outside Calistoga, admitted violating its permits and then appealed to the county to expand them. The request was granted.
Locals, startled at the Blakeley case and the county’s caprices, have eloquently expressed outrage.
Defenders of the rulings might argue that their particulars prohibit linking them, but the details are less important than the ironic trend they exemplify. The growing wine industry and its votaries, exploiting the county’s professed commitment to agriculture and a semi-rural lifestyle, are displacing the very tradition that made the valley attractive.
Long reputed for farming and fine grapes, Napa Valley today is increasingly known as a tourist destination. There are more wineries every year. Challenged to score shelf space in a crowded market, they rely increasingly on visitors to buy their products and on special events to promote them.
So, attracted by a superior product, rural loveliness, and relentless marketing, visitors throng the valley. Local housing, otherwise available for the growing wine industry’s lower-paid hospitality and field workers, goes increasingly to part-time occupants attracted to the tony wine world; so real estate prices rise and the workers must commute (witness traffic on Highway 29). Meanwhile, new settlers love the glamour, but not necessarily the grit; hence, the Blakeley case.
Either by economics---or by fiat---the soul of Napa Valley suffers.
Soul, a respect for the essence of things, refers to connection, depth, history, and beauty; less to money. Napa County’s professed primary activity, agriculture, is literally and soulfully connected to its landscape: farming and related services like Blakeley actually work the dirt. Tourism by contrast is a derivative industry, sparkling, meretricious. It generates loads of money, so municipalities and chambers of commerce love it. I do too---until it smothers soul. We are at that critical point now.
Napa is losing its soul when it: refers relentlessly to economics but not to aesthetics; promotes development and a tourism that degrade its semi-rural experience; can’t find a way to protect an Upvalley tradition like Blakeley Construction but has no problem approving a wayward winery’s requests for more visitors.
Tourist revenue may console a county losing its heritage, but extreme tourism confounds residents who believed in Napa’s commitment to its semi-rural character. It’s sad to see the soul of a community sold for a tsunami of tourists. And even tourists, in clogged traffic and perfect tasting rooms, will recognize soulless inauthenticity and eventually disparage “Napafication.”
If soul were strictly a local issue, I wouldn’t offer my poor scribbling here: Calistoga, with hundreds of new resort rooms recently approved, has already rolled its dice.
But the soul of the county may still be salvaged if applications for even more visitors and events are denied. We can appreciate the wine industry---and simultaneously cap its expansion, arrest Napa Valley’s urbanization.
The Blakeley case shows the exploitation of our county has unexpected consequences. Where will it happen next?
The issue behind the tax issues
|Bill Hocker - Mar 17, 2016 6:10PM Share
NVR 3/17/16 Despite protest, sewer board approves rate hikes
NVR editorial board 3/5/16: Prudent, necessary action on the jail
The Napa Sanitation sewer system undoubtedly needs upgrading. A lot of development has happened over the last 50 years in Napa county putting a strain on the wastewater infrastructure. And the county undoubtedly needs a new jail. As the general population increases so does the criminal population.
Both tax hikes are needed because of the increasing urban development of the county. Unfortunately, as Volker Eiseley emphasized in his battle to preserve the Napa valley, and as every city budget on earth testifies to, development doesn't pay for itself. It doesn't. Residents now need to make up for the unfunded costs that developers didn't have to pay while building and profiting from their projects over this last half century leaving taxpayers to pick up the infrastructure costs. Like roads and sewers and schools and fire stations and jails. 10 or 20 years from now residents will again be asked to pay for the impacts of projects that are currently in the development pipeline that are not paying for the infrastructure impacts they create. 135 winery projects are currently approved or in the planning department seeking 1.5 million additional visitor slots/yr.. 3500 new housing units, 2000 hotel rooms, 3,800,000 sf of commercial/industrial space are all in the pipeline in Napa county. Each will pay impact fees intended for infrastructure development that are woefully under the actual cost of mitigating the impacts they create.
That is the price of continuing "growth": developers make a profit, and the residents of the communities that absorb the urbanization are left with urban ills and higher taxes. It is the lack of recognition that the projects we approve today under the guise of "economic development" benefit a few - at the cost of the quality of life of current residents now and of increased taxes on all residents in the future.
Why is it so difficult for governments to recognize that they can better serve their citizens by attempting to limit development, so that the issues of traffic and affordable housing and sanitation can be managed without the pressure of ever increasing demand coming down the pike? Do we need to answer that question? Developers provide the funding to elect government leaders. Developers help craft the laws that make development easier. Government leaders are absorbed into the development process claiming that "growth" generates taxes to better serve residents. It sounds good at the planning commission or in stump speeches. But if "growth" did actually pay for itself, the residents in large cities would pay lower taxes than the residents of small rural communities. New York should be tax-free by now. It is not the case.
When will we wake up and vote for leaders committed to stopping the urbanization of their communities and solving the development problems we already have? Everything that you don't want to happen to the place you live will happen as long as you continue to vote for "growth".
Occasionally there are candidates that recognize the fallacy of the "growth is good" dogma. Seek them out. Vote for them.
New Year's resolutions at the BOS 1/5/16
|Bill Hocker - Jan 7, 2016 10:15AM Share
I have attached a letter I sent to the County last fall
, soon after the Reverie appeal had been considered before the BOS. I’m hopeful that by resending this request, that I will get a response. Somewhere, this got lost in the shuffle, and I still need a follow up to ascertain what went wrong between the different areas within County Government. Thank you for taking a look at the enclosure.
My definition of “THE INDUSTRY” : All the tourism related activities within the County except the growing of grapes and the making of wine. This includes event centers masquerading as wineries, hotels, restaurants, wineries with internal hidden food service kitchens, Visit Napa Valley, and bottling factories for imported grapes.
This letter addresses my concerns going into this next year having seen little to no progress from our politicians in the County. Last March 10, it was apparent to the people of Napa that an imbalance has been in the making for a very long time here. The positive impacts from the INDUSTRY and improved quality of life have all gone to the brokers of the INDUSTRY. It has improved their quality of life, while the people’s quality of life has been diminished. This has occurred as a direct result of the bias that has evolved within Government politics. It’s a naturally occurring thing, and it’s not too late to recognize this and alter course. Nothing has changed since March. The people have had to endure the policy from the Zucker Report, which essentially gave ”after the fact” forgiveness to violators of Use and Building Permits; although it was rescinded in the December 2005 Resolution # 05-229
. I quote: “Whereas, the Board finds that certain provisions contained in the Manual, among them being a fee forgiveness program, are in fact a hindrance and obstacle to effective code compliance efforts, and may not further the objective of taking appropriate enforcement actions on a case by case bases…” So we let Caves at Soda Canyon, Bell, Reverie, Melka, Markham, and all the others get away with it.
We’ve also seen biased recommendations from the Agricultural Protection Advisory Committee. Whomever designed the format and makeup of the APAC might have realized that with super majority votes required, and the majority were invested in protecting the INDUSTRY, nothing would come of it. Here’s the outcome of some significant votes that have been lost in time: Increased parcel size: NO, small winery use permit requirement: No, minimum amount of estate grapes: NO, no net loss of vineyard land: NO, calling food service an accessory use: NO. All these ideas brought by the people were nullified by the votes of the INDUSTRY. We should still insist on a 40 acre minimum lot size in the AP and 160 acre in the AWOS. The Agricultural Protection Advisory Committee would have been more aptly named the TPAC, for Tourism Protection Advisory Committee. The INDUSTRY won and the people lost. I quote one of our Supervisors who stated: “you didn’t really expect the APAC to get anything done, did you?” No I didn’t.
These types of decisions are called “passing the buck.” In this Valley, it’s the elite members of the INDUSTRY that control the political decisions. That’s why we’re in such a mess now. The INDUSTRY has the prestige, influence and political strength necessary to bias governmental decision making. This gives them the political will to continue their pursuit of more and more growth, and less and less power to the people.
Well, March was in 2015. And if you think the environmental activists made your lives busier, more complicated and more stressful; then hang on to your hats this year. There’s going to be nothing short of a revolution if the power doesn’t swing back to the people. 2016, the year we people take back control of our government. Power to the people.
Let’s begin 2016 with one basic premise: Lets grow grapes and make great wine and pursue land use decisions that promote the people’s rights, not the INDUSTRY’S greed.
1. Increase minimum parcel size for winery permit
2. New specific language to deal with “after the fact” compliance issues
3. Monitor Grape Sourcing
4. Implement strong language pursuant to accessory/hospitality and visitation
5. Mandate small winery permit process that mirrors larger permits requirements
6. Amend and strengthen AWOS conservation goals.
7. Protect our watersheds through increased awareness of cumulative impacts
8. Draft policy to positively affect wineries out of compliance.
9. New program to move much of the 2% extra TOT into environmental sustainability.
10. Work with Cities to limit new hotel rooms
[Additional Note to Supervisors on 1/6/16:]
Yesterday, in my humble attempt to influence your further deliberations, I ran long in my speech and for that I sincerely apologize. Alfredo, I understand setting a standard to which we hold all accountable.
I would ask each of you, if and when you have time, to review my comments submitted yesterday to you in hard copies. What I'm trying to get across to you is this: I believe that the first thought that should enter your minds when confronted with a land use decision should be: " what would the residents/the citizens/the people want from this decision?" What I believe you are saying to yourselves is; " how can we maintain a viable winery/tourism industry while attempting to keep it under control to some degree?"
Those of us who have lived here for several decades have seen our personal quality of life be diminished. I moved here because it was clearly the best place on earth to live. Its not anymore. Its a magnificent place to vacation, though! And you all know this, but it appears you feel the train is running down the tracks and can be slowed down, but not stopped.
Please review my comments with an open mind; knowing that my spirit is in the right place and the people need you to "have their backs." Politics is the same at all levels; the everyday citizen has his or her head in the sand, and the wealthier proponents of the Industry are very self-serving and have the wisdom and influence to be involved. Sad as this is, its true.
The people need you to have their concerns at the top of the pecking order, don't you think?
I'd really appreciate a response, but if you don't have the time, interest, or I've angered you to such an extent that is not possible, well.....I'll just have to accept that. But I will remain in the "slog" and keep trying my utmost to elevate the people's interest in our governmental decisions.
While many of us may be here for land use issues, we are are talking about how those land use decisions impact the health, welfare and safety of our citizens and children.
For example in St. Helena we are dealing with one Event Center Winery project that wants to enter and exit 66,000 wine drinking visitors a year directly through a school zone.
That is a land use decision that will certainly have an impact on those kids. I pray not fatal but I unfortunately foresee that as a likely possibility.
We are also seeing land use decisions impacting water quality and availability. Clean, available water is something we all need to survive if there was any confusion about that.
In 2016 we’re going to continue talking about and putting things on the agenda:
We'll talk about Event Center Wineries with their tourism impacts to our communities-the impacts to our zoning rights and common resources such as water, roads and public services.
We’ll be discussing deaths related to Binge Tourism from our local wine tourism surge: at least 5-8 deaths last year, maybe we should read those names in this room. Not as many people as the terrorism attack in San Bernardino, but these people are just as dead. A few new incidents over the holidays, luckily none of them fatal, never the less disturbing with assault and battery on law enforcement officers.
We’re going to talk about the fact that Napa County is not a ride at Disneyland, it’s a place were citizens of the United States live, where we have a right to demand elected officials enforce laws and rules in place to protect our citizens
We’ll talk about encroachment from commercial tourism on Ag and residential zoning, we’ll talk about drunk bicycle riders and drivers getting themselves killed and putting the rest of us in danger.
We’ll talk this year about how it would behoove small independent winery owners and growers to stand up for the rights and safety of their fellow citizens while they still have the opportunity. Those independent owners and growers will want the citizens around to stand up for when the leveraged buyout or hostile corporate takeover paints its target on them, as it moves up the food chain.
We’ll talk this year about real estate agents needing to disclose to clients how changes to the Definition of Agriculture and Winery Definition Ordinance impact residential and Ag zoning
as well as the the AG Preserve. How somebody buying or owning Ag or residential property in Napa county needs to understand that under current polices almost every acre of Napa County land is vulnerable to high intensity commercial incursion.
We’ll continue talking about why changes to the The Definition of Agriculture and WDO - weren't a Measure P vote. ( Note: I didn’t read this next line: how that process could be considered at best special interest legislation, at worst, insider trading)
We’ll talk about “dream wineries” - how that dream is not viable if it requires encroaching on neighbors zoning and the plundering the common resources of the community.
We’ll talk about how Winery Use permit abuse is not a victimless violation, how the victims are the people of our the community who’s common resources and zoning is being co-opted, often the very community that has supported the violator.
We’ll talk about how the Zucker Report was rescinded and the lack of adequate enforcement in our county.
We’ll talk about needing to analyze impacts to our residents from over promotion of Napa County with no analysis of impacts,
We’ll talk about water and watersheds, deforestation. 10,000 trees proposed to be cut down for a Calistoga Resort, another 28,000 tree deforestation in the watershed just east of Napa city.
We’ll talk about Napa County Chainsaw wine.
We’re gonna talk about press and media - about CBS , ABC, the LA Times and Associated Press, who are aware of our situation here, and I’m not referring to “Cabernet Season”, but rather these issues of zoning encroachment, illegal operations, deforestation and Napa County Binge Tourism with the associated deaths.
Finally we’re gonna talk this year about greed and karma
Greed that can become like a blinding contagious infection, obscuring moral responsibilities and our roles as neighbors and citizens of the United States
And Karma, forever poised to reveal itself.
The growth curve (updated)
|Bill Hocker - Dec 17, 2015 11:37AM Share
NVR 3/24/17: Napa County population grows by less than 1 percent
Everyone claims that this is a bad sign. More people means more money in tax money coming in. What's unrecognized is that a population consumes more tax money that they put in, and as the population growth quest for more tax revenue becomes more frantic.
To me low population growth is a very good thing: Population growth is the most egregious threat to the survival of the agricultural economy, a concept that most Napa politicians pretend to extoll and that residents actually do support. A low population growth means that the infrastructure costs of an increasing population, new roads, schools, emergency services, a new jail, sanitation facilities and water supply are easier to deal with.
Of course the population increase number doesn't include the transient population. At 3.3 million visitors/yr that would add 9000 people (6%) to the population. According to Visit Napa Valley, the number of visitors coming to napa has been increasing at the rate of 6-7%/yr.
It obviously costs a lot to live in Napa County, and building new housing is a devilish business here, thank goodness. Still, there are currently some 3600 housing units proposed or approved in the county, most condos or apartments. Don't expect many to be affordable. The county and the municipalities have worked for years to bring more affordable housing to the county with only a smattering of units built. One suspects most of the housing units in the pipeline are meant for the upscale techies, retirees or the tourist trade rather than the ever increasing workforce.
And the workforce is increasing considerably.While the population hasn't increased, the 6-7% yearly increase in the tourist population also means a similar increase in the hospitality workforce.n increased population is only one of two urbanization measures that threaten the continued survival of agriculture - the other is (non agricultural) jobs.
NVR 12/17/15: California's population grows to nearly 39.1 million
The numbers from the Calif State Demographic Research Unit that this data comes from are here
The Napa statistics:
Tot Population 141,625
Increase in population 2014-15: 905 souls
Ave tot increase since 2010: 1050/yr
Ave Rate of increase per year: 0.76%/yr
Ave natural increase (births - deaths) since 2010: 340/yr (i.e. immigration =710/yr)
The beginning of any attempt to control the urbanization of the county is a decision to base all development decisions on maintaining a desirable growth curve, and to limit the amount of development through zoning or other regulatory measures to that curve.
One such measure was instituted in 1980 when the voters approved Measure A which limited the annual growth of housing units in the county to 1%/yr. This measure has been incorporated into a growth management system on page AG/LU-73 of the General Plan Policy AG/LU-119
. The rise in households has held at the 1% growth rate with an average of 406 new households each year for the last 30 years. (demographics here
) There are currently about 3400 housing units in the planning stages in the county representing about 8.5 years of growth.
If we were to take the same measure on grapes, starting in 1980 with 80000 tons and 138800 tons in 2010 the rate of grape expansion has been 1.85% per year.
There were about 80 wineries in Napa in 1980 after the big boom in the 70's. In 2010 there were 400 wineries in the ag preserve about 5.5% per year. In the last 5 years 40 new wineries have been approved, about 2% per year.
The amount of other development, hotels, restaurants, commercial space, industrial space (which has exploded in the last 30 years) is a bit harder to establish. But just using the labor force statistics Napa county had 55000 people in the labor force in 1990 and 75000 in 2010 a 1.5% increase per year.
Hodja's Donkey in Napa traffic
|George Caloyannidis - Dec 13, 2015 8:36AM Share
I could never have imagined as a 7-year-old that my grandmother's story of "Feeding the Donkey,” one of some 500, by the 13th-century Sufi populist philosopher Nasreddin Hodja, would someday grant me a look under the cover of the Napa County planning philosophy.
As the story goes, in order to economize on the amount of oats his donkey ate, Hodja began cutting down on it. Seeing that after a few days, the donkey was doing fine, he continued reducing the amount little by little. One morning, Hodja found his donkey dead in the barn. When neighbors inquired, Hodja wailed: "Ahh, my poor donkey! He died just as he was getting used to hunger!” We are all too aware that incrementally increasing our food intake can kill us just as well.
The California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) was enacted to protect us all from the negative effects of projects by mandating mitigation measures to offset them. For any given development impact -- traffic being one of many -- CEQA requires evaluation thresholds ranging from "significant,” to "less than significant,” to "none.” Unfortunately, the Board of Supervisors has been employing the reverse Hodja model for decades.
As traffic is allowed to increase little by little by each new project, it elevates the benchmark of volume against which the effect of any new project is being evaluated. When 10 added to 100 in the past was significant, it appears less than significant when added to 1,000 today. This skewed process can be experienced every Tuesday and Wednesday when the supervisors and commissioners meet for the residents' weekly force-feeding sessions of every traffic-contributing winery and event. Exactly what CEQA was supposed to protect them from.
But there are two problems with the county's manipulation of the numbers: The public has paid for a road system designed for anticipated traffic flow capacities appropriate for an agricultural community and sufficient to support a healthy economy. Once this traffic level is exceeded to facilitate overblown economic activity, the poor country donkey of agriculture is being flattened to death under the more than 181,330 cars in and out of the valley each day (Fehr & Peers study, December 2014), all rubber-stamped by a series of disingenuous "less than significant" impacts.
Even more serious: CEQA affords the public additional protections by mandating that "the cumulative impacts of other projects, past, current and probable future ones shall be considered in granting any use permit.” This means that every potential winery with its delivery trucks, visitors and special events allowed under the zoning law, is a potential development that must be factored in CEQA if we want to maintain any semblance of a long-term balance. Not so in this county where ever more is better no matter what.
The truth is that the supervisors never refuse anyone who comes before them arguing that their proposed winery has the same production, visitations and events as the one they approved five years before. In misapplying CEQA, they invoke "precedent,” "existing standards" and "niceness of the applicant" in approving it. They refuse to acknowledge the fact that baseline standards are constantly shifting with every new project.
The arguments they hide behind are not truthful: "We need to keep growing our economy.” But continued growth has reached the point where it comes at too high a cost. Population growth has only been 20 percent in the past 25 years while traffic has increased six-fold.
Their argument, "Traffic increases no matter what we do,” doesn't pass scrutiny either. Only 9 percent of all traffic is pass-through traffic. All 91 percent of it is legislated by them, by increasing number of wineries, visitor attractions, demand for accommodations and low-paid commuters.
CEQA has given the supervisors the tool -- mandated by the state -- to argue that each 50 more cars today are not the same as the 50 more cars of five years ago, that one more 100,000-gallon winery today is not the same as the one of five years ago. By avoiding the difficult decisions, they have paved the road for the drop-by-drop cumulative degradation of the Napa Valley's agricultural environment.
"Ahh, our poor Napa! She died as she was just getting used to binging!"
In the end, maintaining the balance is our collective responsibility and it is high time we do something about it.
NVR 12/13/15: Hodja's Donkey in Napa Traffic
|Bill Hocker - Oct 20, 2015 8:38AM Share
Steven Rodriguez LTE: We need a cap on developed areas
The concept of buildout should be the basis for all planning decisions and for the construction of the general plan. It is not in Napa county. A desired buildout answers the question "what do we want this place to look like in the future".
The one such metric that exists in the General Plan, a current 115 unit per year cap on new home building permits (Policy AG/LU-119 here
), has in fact been held to, and developers are spending their money instead on tourism projects (some of which are labeled wineries) and on industrial development neither of which have credible caps.
There is agricultural and industrial zoning
, yet if each achieve the buildout allowed under current regulations, this will be a place that no one will want to call home. While it is probably true that complete buildout is unlikely to happen, our planning department needs to assume that it will happen in making their planning decisions just as they would for 100 year floods.
In the agricultural zones each of the 5000 parcels in the county above 10 acres can be developed with a tourist event center, with undefined amount of visitation. Up to 25% of the land on parcels less that 60 acres (perhaps 3500 parcels) and 15 acres/parcel on those larger can be covered with structures and paving. Each of those parcels can also have a home and a guest home, (subject to the 115/yr restriction).
There probably was an analysis of buildout when the industrial zoning of south Napa was enacted. Unfortunately, we are already beginning to see major impacts
to the traffic infrastructure with only about half of the industrial zoned lands of Napa and American Canyon occupied. It is unlikely that road construction will be able to keep up with industrial building. The widening of Jameson Canyon has, in fact, increased the traffic into and through the industrial area, no doubt increasing the rate of development of the industrial zone, while creating enormous gridlock already at times of the day. (More proof that road widening never relieves congestion, it merely encourages more development and more traffic.)
As if they haven't enough already on their plate, the county planning department needs to take Mr. Rodriguez's words to heart and tell us, based on current zoning what this county would look like if all properties are developed to their potential under the General Plan. And then we can ask ourselves, is that what we want our future to look like?
More on the true cost of development
|Bill Hocker - Oct 14, 2015 3:36PM Share
George Caloyannidis sends along this 2009 Fodor study of the growth of destination resorts in Oregon: Fiscal and Economic Impacts of Destination Resorts in Oregon
The conclusion after crunching all the numbers? The same conclusion that has been found in almost every study done on the true costs of development: The cost of the unfunded impacts that development creates outweigh the revenue generated by the development. Governments and their taxpayers end up subsidizing the cost of the development, whether in affordable housing, transportation improvements, schools, infrastructure improvements, and increased government services.
Eben Fodor in his book Better not Bigger
argues for government policy to have developers pay for all of the impacts created by their projects to encourage more sustainable growth decisions.
Gabor Zavanyi, in the No-Growth Imperative
, pushes a step further and recognizes that "sustainable growth" is an oxymoron, that the resource and labor exploitation that makes capital development profitable for a few will eventually, or may have already, become practically or morally unacceptable. It is time to begin looking at sustainable stability not sustainable growth.
More of my spleen on growth issues are here.
Grandstanding on agricultural sustainabilty
|George Caloyannidis - Oct 6, 2015 10:12PM Share
It is natural, though hardly constructive, when an industry is criticized for some of its practices for it to hunker down in defense mode. This is the only way I can explain Stuart Smith’s guest commentary in the Napa Valley Register in which he characterized the concerns over the Napa valley’s communal quality of life a “cacophony” and “hypocritical” (“Agricultural sustainability is not possible without economic vitality,
” Sept. 14).
I don’t know anyone who does not appreciate the wine industry’s contributions to the Napa Valley; its economy, its charitable activity, its very identity. But there is no industry whose operation is without faults or harm. The question is whether pointing them out is mean-spirited, as Mr. Smith suggests, or constructive.
It is indisputable that the wine industry could not be on a healthier financial footing. If nothing else, the proliferation of luxury cars in this valley is a good barometer. Is it not good enough? I simply do not follow Mr. Smith’s logic of why the industry’s vitality, in fact it’s very survival, relies on its unfettered growth. It seems to me the opposite to be true.
No structure can remain intact under continuous growth. It needs to transform itself beyond certain limits to survive, and therein lies the debate in which we all need to engage. The 2007 Napa County General Plan environmental impact report predicts that if we continue on this growth pattern, by 2030 we will need six lanes from Vallejo to Yountville and a four-lane freeway from Yountville to Calistoga only 15 years from now to maintain acceptable level “C” traffic flow. Caltrans will step in and do it whether we want it or not. Is this our vision of agricultural sustainability?
If the wine industry aspires to maintain its beneficial membership within Napa Valley, it needs to take a hard look at its longstanding support of unfettered growth. And so does the county. We have reached the point where such growth is no longer objected to by local neighborhoods. New wineries and hotels as far upvalley as Calistoga, generate serious problems in St. Helena and as far south as American Canyon with valley-wide ramifications. Is traffic congestion, loss of resources, water, forests, watersheds, a local workforce, our vision of agricultural sustainability?
Collectively, when in harmony, these are the essential elements of a high communal quality of life that are the ultimate attraction for residents and visitors; the very ones who support the wine market.
Here are facts that neither the wine industry nor county policy can no longer mischaracterize or ignore:
More than half the traffic generated in this county is directly attributable to the wine industry and its little sister, the hospitality industry, which relies on it for its lifeblood. According to the recent study, 16 percent of traffic comes from tourism and 25 percent from commuting workforce of these low-paying industries. Mr. Smith tells us that the Napa Valley population doubled during the past 45 years. Fair enough, but he fails to tell us that traffic has increased six-fold during that same period. Blaming it on the 9 percent pass-through traffic will no longer fly as an excuse.
Not to be ignored is a silent local workforce that can only afford to live in crammed quarters. Communal quality of life cacophony?
Moreover, who foots the bill for the subsidies low-paid workers qualify for? Who foots the bill for the high water rates? Who foots the bill for the accelerated deterioration of the local infrastructure, all due to the daily influx of outsiders to the tune of one third of our entire population? The reality is that everyone of us is chipping in to support wine industry profits. Perhaps this is the corollary side of sustainability, even charity.
And then there is this: Imagine if four out of 10 baseball players were using performance-enhancing drugs while the rest of them didn’t. Would the league afford to stand by and condone unfair competition? Would it in the face of the magnitude of abuse legalize drug use? When the honor system was compromised, testing and heavy penalties were introduced to save the very integrity of the game.
Not in Napa County. When wineries are abusing the honor system to the tune of four out of 10 as they do, and the industry remains silent with the help of the county that rewards rather than penalizes the cheaters, we have a problem affecting the very core values of our community generations of the farming community helped build.
And while the wine industry likes to project itself as stewards of a sustainable environment, it remains silent, fully cognizant that every use permit violation is an activity that avoided California Environmental Quality Act review and its protections afforded the community’s quality of life.
Such policies eat at the very heart of fairness and cheating embodied in our traditional moral fabric, which I have, no doubt, every resident of the county embraces. But the vintners and the county are first to circle the wagons when they are exposed and forced to take appropriate action. It seems to me that characterizing as hypocrites the ones who dare sound the alarm on the loss of balance, perspective and honesty is misplaced if not misdirected.
Let’s look at sustainability’s real lifeblood: If we continue to sacrifice our core values in the interest of ever higher profits, we are paving the way for a cynical generation to succeed us. Stewardship? What was that?
Caloyaniddis NVR LTE: Grandstanding on agricultural sustainabilty
Tourism versus houses
|Bill Hocker - Sep 18, 2015 9:53AM Share
In several recent editorials in the Napa Valley Register, here
, a line of argument has been advanced that the residents that show up at planning commission meetings and APAC meetings in an effort to protect our communities from development are against the wine industry and opposed to agriculture. And that if tourism at wineries is not supported that the wine industry will die and housing projects will ensue. In fact, the arguments are simply scare tactics used by those who profit from tourism in the county.
The Napa wine industry is healthy because there is a world wide respect for the quality of its wines and hence a world wide market for their sale. The reputation was initially established by a tasting abroad. The reputation continues to be upheld by tastings around the world. Despite the mega-amounts of tourism now coming into the valley, promoted by Visit Napa Valley and hundreds of tourist attractions, the vast majority of Napa wine drinkers around the world will probably not travel here; and if they do it will probably be because they already know the quality, not because they need to be sold on it.
It is natural that the home of a product of such renown would be a place of pilgrimage for afficianodos and the Napa Valley has always welcomed appreciative visitors. Tourism is the valley's second largest business. But let's not confuse the two industries. The tourism industry did not establish the reputation of Napa wines, nor build their market. That was done by previous generations of vintners and entrepreneurs willing to do the legwork necessary to establish the brand on the world stage. The tourism industry exploits their effort.
It is also worth noting that some of the most respected wines in the valley, e.g. Screaming Eagle, Harlan, Dominus, allow no tourism whatsoever. The notion that the wine industry would not exist without the tourism industry is simply a tourism industry invention. In fact, it is quite possible that by associating Napa wines with gigantic chrome rabbits, cable cars and tuscan castles and french and persian palaces, and by turning this mythical eden into one big traffic jam, that the negative reputation of this place as a tourist trap may be diminishing the respect accorded the wines.
By conflating tourism and the wine industry, the fear mongers intend to divert attention from the obvious erosion of our rural environment and small town life caused by ever increasing building development, rising housing costs, conversion of housing to short term rentals, and traffic. All of these negative impacts, exacerbated if not wholly created by an expanding tourism industry, are the price to be paid for no housing projects, the fear mongers argue. But the reality is just the opposite. As the tourism industry has expanded and more people visit and more workers are required to tend to them, and the commute traffic has increased, the pressure to develop more housing has only increased. Traffic mitigation and affordable housing are now at the top of the NVV solution list to deal with the fallout from their embrace of tourism; more development to try to ease the impacts of previous development.
Let's be clear about what the residents are now arguing for at these public meetings. This battle is not about what the Valley is now. Its not an attempt to diminish the current profits of the tourism industry or the wine industry, an economy which has created a place treasured by all. (although we do wish for wineries to live with their use permits.) It is a battle about the future of this place. Part of that future has already happened, though it isn't visible yet: more than 70 new or expanded winery projects
have been approved by the planning commission but have yet to be built - their visitors, (900,000/yr), and their employees have yet to arrive. (Enormous amounts of non-winery development, like Napa Pipe, are on their way as well.) And part of that future that is about to happen: more than 40 new or expanded wineries
are currently in the planning department awaiting their day before the planing commission with a known 200,000 visitors/yr and more to come. (Enormous amounts of non-winery development, like Watson Ranch, are also in the planning stages.) But there is a third future to be fought for beyond those - the projects that haven't yet arrived at the planning departments. It is this future that all the effort at APAC and that the visitation discussions at the Planning Commission are all about. The skirmishing over projects currently being proposed and use permits being abused are at the fringes of the effort to protect the future character of the county.
The residents that show up in the meetings are there because we feel this to be a unique and wonderful place to live - and we see with an objectivity unclouded by profit motives a direction that is beginning to damage all that is beautiful here. Slowing the development clock has been tried in the various slow growth initiatives currently in place to limit development, but the development continues to come. We need to think now about how development may be stopped so that the impacts that we already feel can be worked on. The goal is that the future character of the county remain somewhat the same as it is today. The alternative is that it will be something different. A better place to live? Unlikely.
The wine industry and the tourism industry have managed thus far to allow a relatively rural economy in an urban world. But the impacts of urbanization, like those of global warming, are already upon us, and corrective action is needed now. The American ideal of an ever growing economy frankly doesn't work when the goal is to protect a rural place. A growth economy is about more people and more jobs and more development to generate ever increasing profits. If the rural character and crop based economy are to survive we must begin to develop a stable economy that doesn't see continued growth as its measure of success, an economy that seeks sustainable profits from its finite renewable resources to support a stable population. Without such an attitude, inevitably the fear mongers will be right in their predictions, though wrong in their causality, and the housing tracts along with all the other development will continue to make their way up the valley. We need to act now.
Our Napa Valley
|Bill Hocker - Aug 28, 2015 4:48PM Share
NVR: Vintners launch "Our Napa Valley" initiative
The Napa Valley Vintners, in a campaign previewed in the last 2 APAC meetings, have taken the offensive in promoting a pig picture look at the development problems that have been the focus of community concern at planning commission and Board of Supervisor meetings over the last year and a half. That broad look, which needs to involve planning for the future in the municipalities as well as the county, dubbed One Napa or Growth Summit elsewhere, was proposed by the Board of Supervisors at their joint PC/BOS meeting on Mar. 10th, 2015. With the Napa Pipe stand-off out of the way, Napa City may now be willing to make the summit possible.
We are one Napa Valley and we're working to preserve our quality of life.
We are one Napa Valley. We share a wonderful quality of life, a sense of community and concerns for the future of this beautiful place. We depend on each other for the wellbeing of our citizens and our community. There are valid concerns that our collective success has created challenges in the areas of transportation, winery compliance and development, water and affordable housing. The wine community cares about these issues, and we are committed to helping develop innovative solutions.
The Napa Valley community must work together toward a shared vision to protect our quality of life and this special place we call home. In addition to our continued work on the substantive and timely issues we face, we want to celebrate everything that makes Napa Valley what it is. This month, the Napa Valley Vintners is launching an initiative to honor our shared sense of community called In Our Napa Valley
. You will begin seeing this phrase around town with examples of what makes Napa Valley distinctive.
Visit our website
to learn about this initiative as well as our work on important community issues. And, please share your own photos celebrating the events, experiences, landmarks, activities, people and scenery that contribute to the quality of life we all care so deeply about by posting on social media using #OurNapa.
The Vintners have itemized the problems: "transportation, winery compliance and development, water, and affordable housing". As usual, unspoken is the word "tourism", the county's prodigious growth industry that is driving the development that creates the problems. Tourism has been embraced by the wine industry and county governments as a means to augment profits and budgets beyond those that an agriculture based economy, even one as storied as Napa's high end wines, can provide. Perhaps they can't be blamed: this is America one developer said at a hearing, and "growth" is what we're all about. It is a convenient philosophy for the barons that profit from growth and a public imbued with the democratic dream that they too can become a baron.
The "Our" in the vintners campaign is no doubt intended to include the residents of the county that have been complaining of late. Their complaints led to the Mar 10th BOS meeting and to the creation of APAC. Napa residents, long supportive of the wine industry because of the beautiful landscape and rural, small town quality of life that it has provided, are now becoming less enchanted as the traffic backs up, as neighborhoods empty and affordable housing vanishes to accommodate short term rentals, as event centers begin their next door partying, as forest hillsides are clear cut for ever more resorts and wineries and baronial estates, All in the name of economic growth built on tourism.
The inability to talk about tourism while trying to solve the problems that are impacting residents does not bode well for actually solving the problems. At APAC, the Vintners stepped back from their earlier support of winery limitations that might have actually reduced the amount of tourism that new wineries and winery expansions currently wish to bring into the county. They are right to think that a focus on wineries will not in itself solve the urban problems they contribute to. But the solution has to start somewhere and wineries are at the base of the tourism food chain.
Instead they focused on the symptoms of traffic congestion and a lack of affordable housing that contributes to it. By concentrating on the symptoms, the Vintners beg the question of whether they are interested in reducing the problem or merely mitigating it with more roadwork and more housing, i.e. more development, to blunt the criticism, a palliative that spreads the disease rather than cures it.
Don't get me wrong. Tourism needs to be a part of the county economy. Napa is a beautiful place with a quaint handcraft industry that people want to see. But the tourism industry needs to be an incidental and subordinate part of life here if it is not to overwhelm, and eventually bury, the current reality that Napa represents and is something other than a tourist destination. At 3.3 million visitors a year, with the impacts already objectionable to those who live here, already diminishing the character of a rural environment and a quality of life that is worth preserving, the level of a sustainable tourist presence may have already been surpassed. It's not too early to say enough tourism, let's seek business models that bolster the wine industry without population impacts.
The growth summit needs to look at what can be done not just to slow growth, but (herasy to the American dream) to stop growth; to envision a community (perhaps as Carmel has done) that recognizes that continued growth will damage and ultimately destroy the unique character that brings residents and visitors alike to this special place. Do we need global warming to know that the growth ethic has limits? Is it not enough just to be stuck in a traffic jam every day?
Napa is unfortunately awash in the barons that know only wealth through growth. More come after every Auction. Governments, nominally protectors of the people against power, are inevitably bent to the will of wealth. Yet there is a long tradition in the county, of residents and the wine industry communing together to preserve this place to the advantage of both. The ag preserve, a landmark land use policy, represented an implicit bargain: the wine industry creates a beautiful and pleasant place for residents to live, and the residents vote for ordinances to allow the industry to survive by curtailing the profits to be made by selling their land. Thwarting the growth engine that has consumed most of the bay area was necessary so that this small rural place could survive into 2015. But the barons of growth never let up.
The residents and the wine industry need to come together now, and to find a new compact that will keep this place beautiful and small for the next 50 years. But it needs to start with a recognition from the Vintners that continued development of tourism venues to encourage an ever increasing tourist population, and the urban development and workforce population that it requires, are not in the long term interest of preserving this as a "special place".
Most wineries exist in this county with little tourist activity. Some of the best, though small, have no visitation. Given a world renowned reputation built by the previous generation of vintners, it is a business model that is sustainable here. The vintners most vehemently pushing for more direct-to-consumer marketing are the new entrants to a business already saturated with production capacity, and with investments that can't be returned by merely siphoning sales from other wineries. To be sure the large older wineries account for the lions' share of the winery tourism that exists now. But it is the new entrants that are driving the increase of tourist activities and numbers into the future, promoting DTC marketing as a necessary trend in the wine industry, when in fact it is really an opportunistic trend in the tourism industry.
The 45,000 acres of Napa grapes will not go unsold and the vineyards will not be paved into suburbia if no additional tourists come to the county. The wine made from them will still find happy connoisseurs, just as it does today. The wine industry will still prosper at the level that it now prospers.
Finding a "stable" economy based on the increasingly finite agricultural resources of the county, rather than continuing an unsustainable "growth" economy, needs to be the priority of any "growth" summit. The emphasis needs to be on stopping growth, not on how to slow it or mitigate it. If done with courage and vision, the balance between residents and the wine industry that has allowed this rural, small-town, special place to survive thus far can allow it to survive for the next 50 years.
Napa's data-based death spiral
|George Caloyannidis - Mar 7, 2015 3:16PM Share
There are some 80,000 jobs in Napa County, which has a population of 140,000. More than half of these jobs serving 3,000,000 visitors are in the low-paying wine/ tourism/retail and waste management sectors.
According to the California Center for Community Economic Development, 27 percent of the county’s population is currently living below the Self Sufficiency Standard. As a result, 25 percent of all low- paying jobs depend on importing workers and 16 percent of our local workforce leaves the county because of our well-paying job deficit. That, in turn, means that 32,000 workers clog highway 29 and the Silverado Trail twice a day commuting from and to other counties.
To make matters worse, the low-paying sector is the fastest growing in the county — 10 percent over the next five years—with overall commuter traffic projected to grow by 9,100, a whopping 45 percent by 2030, according to projections compiled from the U.S. Census, the California Employment Development Division and the Association of Bay Area Governments’ 2013 Projections if current patterns do not change. One would cringe looking at 2050 if we fail to make fundamental adjustments.
Any logical set of solutions in addition to effective public transit is limited to putting the brakes on the accommodation of low-paying jobs at wineries, events and resorts, promoting the creation of high-paying ones and prioritizing the actual building of work-force housing. Napa county has one of the lowest home affordability indexes in the nation at 21 percent, equal to San Francisco’s but given the paltry in-lieu fees charged to developers, land scarcity and the not-in-my-backyard attitude of the general public, it is certain that enough work-force housing to make any appreciable difference on traffic will never be built.
County Supervisors and mayors cringe at the prospect of limiting winery and resort development or putting the brakes on weddings and events at wineries. We need the tax revenue, they will say, or our infrastructure will crumble, essential services will diminish. The problem with this model is that it leads to a downward fiscal spiral.
How is it that our entire nation has reached the point where its roads, bridges, all distribution systems; its entire infrastructure is crumbling requiring staggering amounts of money we don’t have? The urgent need to keep up with the most rudimentary patchwork repairs has led governments at every level to be beholden to any revenue regardless of its consequences.
Multiple studies by Oregon-based consultants Fodor & Associates analyzed the long-term cost of urban growth and compared it with the off-site impact fees municipalities typically charge developers. They found that such fees focus on individual impacts but neglect to account for the mushrooming cumulative ones. While a left-turn lane may be sufficient to mitigate a single development’s impact, the addition of three or four down the line may require miles of road re-surfacing due to increased use, additional lanes, larger schools, fire stations, planning departments, sewer plants, more police, etc. The general public is left holding the bag or suffers from diminished services while the developers reap the profits. This is the fiscal—even ethical—legacy embodied in our current fiscal model, resulting in such public cost-shifting instruments as our recent Measure T or the California Water Bonds — with similar ones sure to follow — because we have surpassed the tipping point of deficit growth.
Fodor’s impact fee analyses for Oregon
— California’s fee structure is similar — showed that each additional home in Eugene in 1998 burdened the tax payers with $27,587 in uncollected costs, and that each residential unit in Oregon destination resorts left taxpayers with a deficit of $22,374. The projected extra cost of all proposed Oregon resorts in 2009 was estimated at $747 million. These numbers do not account for the harder-to-monetize deteriorating quality of the environment or that of Oregonians’ lives.
There are approximately 2,000 new homes (including 260 taxpayer- subsidized affordable ones) and 1,400 hotel rooms (creating 2,794 more low-paying commuter jobs) planned in the county. Each one of these projects comes with huge profits for the very few while shifting multi-million dollar costs, hard-to-imagine congestion, water shortages and more no-burn days on to the general public.
Not unexpectedly, Fodor’s methodology has been attacked by special interests. But as the current state of the nationwide infrastructure attests, no competing study has proved that growth has a net positive longterm fiscal effect in our communities. Any growth at this point in history requires a meticulously researched balancing act.
Napa County and its cities are caught in a self-defeating downward spiral in following current growth models favoring the proliferation of low-paying jobs in the wine and hospitality industries. When one considers all factors and asks oneself whether the quality of life in the Napa Valley is better now than it was 15 years ago—the ultimate test of successful governing — if the unlikely answer is “yes”, wait 15 years down the road when “no” will become irreversibly clear to all.
The road ahead involves difficult and courageous decisions — even deeply ethical ones — but in employing new models, the future is not entirely without solutions. Anyone want to be a Supervisor?
Statistical citations for the article
Napa Valley Register version: Anyone want to be a Supervisor?
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