The Tentacles of Adams Street
George Caloyannidis | Aug 9, 2017
[Letter sent to the St. Helena Star, 8/7/17]
For many years now, the debate over what is a "local serving" business surfaces each time a new store seeks a use permit in downtown St. Helena. Though the term is not clearly defined, most residents instinctively know what it means. It means Steves Hardware, Vasconi's, Sunshine, Lolo's, Main Street Books, Gillwoods.
The difficulty arises when one realizes that "local serving" shifts when community demographics change. When such change is from middle class to affluent, people don't bother to drive to Lolo's to sell a $ 400 dress for $ 40 and they prefer breakfast at Archetype rather than Gillwoods. And when that shift is also towards part time residents, these "new locals" bring along their own ideas as to what constitutes local serving and changes in the social fiber of the community, in civic engagement, schools, clubs, small town fundraisers, neighborhood parties etc.
While the debate whether this or that store is "local serving" garners little attention because of its incremental impact, the debate over the fate of the Adams Street property is of a magnitude that brings the entire set of issues to the forefront. Going over recent letters in the Star, I read Jeff Feeney lamenting that "investors pump hundreds of millions" in Napa, Yountville and Calistoga, while St. Helena is missing out. On the other hand, he is concerned by residents cashing out to second homers who will no longer support "our" stores. And Sara Cakebread criticizes those who oppose a large resort on Adams Street who would rather see "our roads, sidewalks and parks crumble" but at the same time she doesn't want to "lose our small-town character".
A few years ago, long time friends of ours moved to a gated Incline Village community with the kind of infrastructure Jeff and Sara dream of only to find out that most of their neighbors' stone-clad mansions were empty half the time. Socially impoverished, they sold.
No one personifies the ode to the beauty and character of the Napa valley to more people around the globe through his visual poetry on National Geographic and his magnificent albums more so than Charles O' Rear. Only a person with Chuck' sensitivity could have better articulated in a letter to the Star last March what it really means to have "many of our homes dark at night from the influx of absentee home owners". What it means "when $ 1,000 will buy you a nice hotel room, a bottle of wine and probably a dinner while teachers, city and winery employees must commute long distances". Or what "the abundance of jewelry stores - all to satisfy the whims of tourists" and a jammed Highway 29 really mean. "Goodbye St. Helena! We love you and we will miss you!" was Chuck's and Daphne's sad farewell.
Some arrogantly dismiss people like Chuck and Daphne as "among the vocal minority of naysayers". Theirs are legitimate concerns just as are those who want perfect and uncongested roads, beautifully landscaped sidewalks and profitable stores. But what good are stores full time residents never use? What good are dark at night homes? Declining school enrolment? Teachers who cannot come to dinner?
Some prefer less pristine sidewalks if it means keeping the Chuck O' Rears in town, others want a big influx of money to fix everything at once no matter what the consequences.
Perhaps there is a middle ground here. A comprehensive, value oriented ten-year plan, incremental budgeting and above all fiscal responsibility. The citizens are already paying for the water and sewage infrastructure upgrades. Las Alcobas with all its defective planning is at least on line. There are city assets beyond Main Street and Adams Streets which can be sold. Why not an inspiring, carefully framed ballot measure? But the leadership never developed an uplifting long-term vision - not just one for money one should think twice accepting unless it is hinged to the preservation and promotion of our social capital and its venues. Because, in the end, this is where our most precious assets lie.
Last year Napa Vision 2050 organized a forum on the tourist-based economy with three internationally recognized fiscal, social and traffic experts on the subject. Placing all eggs in the tourism basket is a cancer on multiple fronts everywhere it has been tried. One only need look at Venice, Barcelona, Naples, Majorca, Florence, Santorini, Mykonos, all of Greece for that matter, the list is endless, the effects devastating and the evidence undisputable.
Pristine Yountville is just a few miles down the road.
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