Napa's data-based death spiral
George Caloyannidis | Mar 7, 2015
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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