Although affordable housing is an issue everywhere in this age of rising inequality, it is especially an issue in Napa County where the upper end of the inequality spectrum tends to congregate. Add to that two industries, high end agriculture and tourism, which depend on low wage labor to exist and the disparity of available housing and need is stark.
Affordable housing has always been on the County's radar, particularly the need to accommodate the vineyard workers needed to create an agricultural economy. Much was made in the 1990 WDO and since about encouraging specific farmworker housing on ag land, i.e. the creation of a quasi plantation development pattern. I don't know how much of it actually exists. The three county run centers providing transient housing for 180 workers, recently in the news, provide a glimpse into this previous era of a farm labor housing approach.
The principal means of providing affordable housing in the past, perhaps unconsciously, has been through the permitting of mobile home parks. For several years in the early 2000's my brother lived in Rancho de Napa, Yountville's mobile home park. I was stunned when he bought a unit for $30,000 and paid $300/mo to live at the world's epicenter of the good life. Mobile home parks don't seem to be a desirable affordable housing strategy any more, but they should be, and I wonder why not.
Three trends have changed the demand for affordable housing needed from the early days. The number of farmworkers has increased along with vineyard acreage but farm work happens year round in Napa and the pay is above minimum - so more workers now need permanent low-to-moderate income housing. The rise of the tourism industry has created a new wave of service workers also requiring low-to-moderate income housing. And the rise of tourism, and Napa's manufactured reputation for the good life, has also reduced the supply of affordable housing as homes are sold to become second homes or to be used as short term tourism rentals, and as the former supply of long term rentals is converted to short term rentals. The result has become, predictably, an enormous rise in the commuter traffic into the Valley and a renewed interest in finding affordable housing solutions to counter the traffic gridlock that now occurs.
Affordable housing is generally promoted as a way to reduce traffic by allowing workers live closer to their jobs. It is an interesting argument because commuting long distances has been the chosen alternative for white collar workers for a very long time. The difference, one supposes, is the element of choice. The principal strategies to create affordable housing, since it is almost by definition not profitable to build, are by:
(1) allowing increased density or other zoning leeway to developers who provide affordable housing in their projects. The developer absorbs that cost of below market rents or home prices by increased profits elsewhere in the project. Napa Pipe, approved after an 8 year gestation, is an unfortunate example of this approach: 180 units of affordable units allowed the development of an additional 800 units of market rate housing, plus 200,000 sf of commercial space, plus a hotel, plus a nursing facility, plus a Costco. The obvious disadvantage? The new low wage jobs created by the project outstripped the affordable housing that would be provided. That housing was intended, of course, for an existing housing shortage.
Or (2) for developers of commercial and residential projects to pay in-lieu fees earmarked for contribution toward the construction of affordable units by some nonprofit entity in the future. Napa County has affordable housing impact fees that range from $9 down to $5/sf. One of the few examples of non-profit developed affordable housing is Stonebridge Appartments in St. Helena. It was built 25 years ago before the tourism impacts on the housing market and the traffic impacts of increasing development, had begun to bite. Another non-profit sponsored affordable housing project, Napa Creekside Apartments, has had a very difficult time more recently given the increasing concern that residents now have to all development impacts they are experiencing. Our Town St. Helena, a community group promoting affordable housing construction, has shown how difficult it is to do non-profit developments in the Valley.
Another proposed example of mitigation fees used for affordable housing is at Stanly Ranch. The project would add another 500 low wage employees looking for affordable housing. It would also contribute $4.4 million to the city's affordable housing fund. The cost of 50 units of affordable housing in Napa was just pegged at $24 million. By that standard the $4.4 million will be enough for 9 affordable housing units, enough to house perhaps 18 of the 500 new employees.
Recently the US Supreme Court ruled that communities may mandate the construction of affordable housing as a part of development projects, such is the sad state of affordable housing in a plutocrat economy. The State had passed AB 1505 to allow just that. It may offer a good tool to create needed housing - or it may dry up development. A combination of both outcomes may be desirable in Napa County.
Housing goals regarding affordable housing are established by a 9-county voluntary Association of Bay Area Governments, or ABAG, which has developed an apportionment strategy to encourage affordable housing based on the population trends in the cities and counties that comprise the association. ABAG assigns affordable housing goals, known as a Regional Housing Need Allocation (RHNA).
In 2003 Hector Olvera of Latinos Unidos de Napa, sued the county for its failure to provide an appropriate amount of affordable housing. The lawsuit was settled with the County agreeing to build an affordable housing project (near the Silverado County Club!) and to create a housing element to its general plan that would actively promote more affordable housing by involving the cities to take the county housing allotment. The project was killed when the city declined to provide services. Shortly after, developer Keith Rogal bought the Napa Pipe property.
Latinos Unidos (now del Valle de Napa y Solano) again sued the county, in a suit lasting from 2008 to 2013 challenging the 2008 Housing Element of the Napa General Plan and its remotely located sites. The county successfully defended its affordable housing goals, but it was a costly process that left it gun shy and seemed to cause a lot of angst as the negotiations between Napa City and the county over Napa Pipe ground to a close in 2015.
In 2012 Napa County set up a task force on Affordable Housing issuing this report. It was an important effort in cataloging potential strategies for affordable housing creation and of weighing them. Is it being used? Can it or will it generate new policies?
With Napa Pipe becoming an ever more real undertaking, the fury around affordable housing seems like it was diminished in the last 2 years. The traffic, of course, has not and now as everyone begins to face gridlock, affordable housing close to work is being promoted to deflect attention from the real cause of the traffic, continuing tourism and industrial development.
During the last two APAC meetings and afterword, the Napa Valley Vintners made a concerted effort to shift attention from their unwillingness to reign in winery-tourism proliferation by claiming that the traffic impacts that brought about the Mar 10th BOS decision to convene APAC were not a winery problem. They proposed an "Our Napa Valley" effort to bring the county and the municipalities together to solve the problems of traffic, and the lack of affordable housing that contributes to it. These are presented as THE problems to be solved, rather than questioning the continued development of tourism venues and new wineries and more vineyards that cause the traffic and low wage workers to continue to come.
The reality is that the amount of new affordable housing likely to be generated through developer perks or in-lieu fees will never keep up with the demand for affordable housing that new development generates as long as that new development is allowed to happen. It is probably the reason that affordable housing is more in demand than ever, despite 3 decades of affordable housing initiatives.
The loss of affordable housing stock to tourism, as the county has continued to encourage and build the tourism economy, has dramatically accelerated in the internet age with the Airbnb ability to turn second homes and spare rooms into mini hotels. The 2013 Task Force didn't pay attention to this loss perhaps because the disruptiveness of the technology, to affordable housing and to communities, wasn't yet apparent. It is quite probable that the loss of spaces previously rented by local workers is many times more than the amount of affordable housing that can conceivably be constructed. But it should also be noted that short term rental of homes and rooms is not just damaging to the region's ability to provide affordable housing, but leads to the disintegration of the very fabric of Napa communities as places to live. This is a terrible loss to a place that has for the last 45 years prospered while maintaining its small town communities.
Non-profits and the governments need to keep up the effort to build affordable housing in the municipalities. But history shows that this process will provide little housing for a lot of effort. When a larger amount of affordable housing is realized, as in Napa Pipe, the collateral impacts may create more demand than they reduce. If there is a place to really begin to tackle affordable housing, I would think that it should start in reducing the loss of existing housing to tourism and uninhabited homes rather than trying to use more new development to solve the problems of too much development. I don't know how. One possibility is that the in-lieu fees or TOT be put into housing vouchers, at the same time restrictions are put on short term rentals. Right now the county gives $6 million in tourism taxes to Visit Napa Valley to attract more tourists - which increases the demand for more affordable housing. Using that money to supplement the housing costs of tourism workers would be a much more sustainable use.
Whatever the solution, one needs to be found, because the alternative is that the Valley becomes more like a real Disneyland, in which the rides are shut down, the lights turned off and everyone commutes home for the night.
The City of Napa is considering an innovative program to turn spare bedrooms into affordable housing. Being a pessimist, one has an immediate question: How much does the city spend on compliance to insure that the new units don't become much more lucrative short term rentals. Unlike most places, the demand for short term rentals in Napa is also sky high. Still it is the right approach to get at the problem - incentivize the use of existing housing stock for affordable housing, and maintain the coherence of neighborhoods, rather than building a few hopelessly expensive new units that will never meet the need and pit the existing community against residents of the new project.
The unincorporated county's share of the RHNA mandate for 2023-2031 will be around 200 additional units, 10% above the 180 units in the last allocation. Let's hope a way is found to build those 200 units that doesn't require the building of another Napa Pipe-sized city on county land to finance them.
NVR 2/24/21: Napa County again tries to sell Old Sonoma Road site for housing
In the meantime the county is putting their Old Sonoma Road property up for sale again after the previous deal fell through because the site isn't yet zoned residential, a complication for a buyer. The City of Napa is about to update their general plan with residential zoning for the site included. Regardless, the County is trying to sell the site at a cut rate because of the current zoning. If they waited they could get more money. If they waited they could use the site for some of the housing they are required to provide under 2023-2031 RHNA. If they were smart they would give the land to a developer willing to do 100% affordable housing on the site.
Just below the above article in the Register is a video of the construction ongoing at the Stanly Ranch Resort. The resort will eventually employ 500 people, most needing affordable housing. This is just the population growth that ABAG is trying to house with their mandates. The committment by the cities and the county to continue to approve resorts, hotels, winery entertainment venues, industrial warehouses are all creating the conditions needing more housing. ABAG should be apportioning housing mandates based on the number of jobs communities are creating. And the amount of job-creating development ongoing, much but not all shown here and here, is quite astounding.
At the end of last year the County finally recognized the link between job creation and urban development in refusing to ramp up industrial development in the south county. But much like climate change, the projects already in the pipeline make make modest efforts at mitigation futile. And nothing in the approvals made in the last year, slowed somewhat perhaps by the pandemic, makes one think that a radical rethinking of the problem is in the offing.
The cities and county are trying to hide behind some high minded dedication to agriculture and open space to shirk their duty to provide for the housing need they are creating in their approvals. If they truly were committed to agriculture and open space they would stop, immediately, promoting a tourism/industrial economic base for the county and concentrate on how to make their unique, low urbanizing, agricultural product more viable in a global marketplace. Napa has spent millions promoting Visit Napa Valley and nothing promoting the sale of Napa wines outside the county. Selling wine as a tourist good is more profitable for more people than growing and processing crops for export, but the urbanization needed to achieve that additional profitability will eventually undermine the agriculture and open space that governments hypocritically claim to treasure.
Update 11/6/20The Board of Supervisors and City of Napa have drafted a response to the ABAG proposed RHNA allocation for 2023-31. It will be presented and discussed at the BOS meeting on 11/10/20 (item 10E here). The county's agenda letter more clearly spells out the thinking than the letter to ABAG (the ABAG unincorporated allocation seems ot have risen to 880 units!). While the letter gets into the weeds of ABAG's "methodology", they are essentially pleading that the unique circumstances of a county devoted to preserving an agricultural economy needs a more flexible approach to affordable home building goals than the rest of the constantly urbanizing Bay Area. Of course the county's promotion of tourism and industrial development in the unincorporated area over the last 20 years are making that argument more difficult with every new (mostly low-paying) job created.
In 2012, for the period of 2015-2023 ABAG required Napa County to supply 180 affordable housing units. The result of that allocation was a difficult effort to find sites in the unincorporated county on which to build the units (documented in the Genreal Plan 2014 Housing Element), resulting ultimately in a complex deal with the City of Napa to build them as part of the Napa Pipe Project, the only site beyond one in Angwin, strongly opposed by Angwin Residents, that was remotely suitable. The desire to fulfill the RHNA allotment was a principal reason the Napa Pipe Project was approved. Of course along with the 180 units came an additional massive urban development project. Unfortunately the method of supplying affordable housing in a capitalist society is to fund it with fees and taxes from vast amounts of other, more profitable consturction.
This time around, ABAG is alloting 792 affordable units to be built in the unincorporated county between the years 2023 and 2031, not quite four and a half times the number of units alloted, but still not built, from the 2015 to 2023 requirment. And Napa Pipe is no longer an eligable site. How much additional urban development of Napa's open space, the legacy of a committment to agriculture by a previous generation of citizens and politians, will be necessary to accomodate the next RHNA allotment? Something four and half times the size of Napa Pipe, perhaps.
Mr. Dell'Ario's letter is a very thoughtful proposal to include the provision of employee housing as an integral part of the development approval process. It comes (coincidentally?) on the same day that I happened to view a portion of the 1/23/20 meeting of the Napa County housing committee.
I have seldom looked at Napa County commission meetings beyond the Planning Commission and BOS meetings. When I started viewing, County Council Jason Dooley was making a presentation (agenda letter here) on the Employee Housing Act, a state program regulating the construction and maintenance of employee housing. The members of the commission were seeking the definition of farmworker housing. Specifically the question came up as to whether winery workers, including hospitality workers, are to be considered "farmworkers". It is a question that I, and others, posed some time ago along with other implications of the County's changing definition of agriculture in 2017.
Farmworkers are defined, apparently, under the Employee Housing Act as employees of an "agricultural employer". He indicated that under county code, which defines the marketing of wine as an agricultural operation, hospitality workers might be considered "farmworkers". The California labor code also defines an agricultural employee and Mr. Dooley gave that definition in its entirety in his agenda letter. An agricultural employee, among the more expected jobs in agriculture, is also one who is involved in the "preparation for market and delivery to storage or to market". As we are constantly told, the wine market has changed and direct-to-consumer sales at wineries are the new market. What does "delivery to market" mean in this context? The county is already flirting with hotels on Ag land. Will the county now allow condo units to be built on Ag lands to accomodate winery hospitality staff in a tight housing market?
The supervisors are apparently worried that in accepting development money from ABAG, that ABAG will increase the amount of affordable housing required to be built by the County in their 2023-2030 allotment. But that allotment isn't just dependent on new jobs tied to ABAG supported development; it is tied to all jobs created in the county, and the Supes have not shown a similar interest in slowing down job development otherwise.
I'm pleased that they have finally acknowledged the connection between jobs created and the amount of affordable housing they are going to be required to provide. Providing the 180 units ABAG required in the 2017-2022 allotment proved to be a major headache. It was satisfied by approving Napa Pipe after 8 contentious years, which, given the vast amount of development on the site needed to subsidize 180 affordable units (800 non-affordable housing units, 200,000sf of commercial/industrial space, a hotel, nursing home and a Costco), created many more jobs than the new affordable housing would accommodate - thus increasing the need for even more affordable housing in the near future and in the next ABAG allotment.
The county continues to approve, on a bi-weekly basis (and at present weekly basis) new industrial projects and new and expanded winery projects that will bring ever more jobs into the county. Where is the recognition that all of those new jobs (and the additional jobs needed to service the new projects' employees and visitors) will also add to their 2022-2030 ABAG affordable housing mandate?
Jobs are the building blocks of urban development. The Supervisors have made great efforts to resist urban development through their policies over the last 50 years. The decision to decline the ABAG development assistance shows that the spark is still there. But it is not enough: the onslaught of development projects continues. Until there is a recognition that the County must do whatever it can to put a brake on new development projects, it will be forever increasing the demand for more housing and urban growth - as well as its ABAG affordable-housing mandates.
The new State law is intended to reduce local agency regulatory barriers for Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) in order to increase the available housing supply. Considering that the maximum size of an ADU is only 1,200 square feet, this law would provide housing for small families of lesser means.
ADDED RECOMMENDATION TO THE PLANNING COMMISSION-APPROVED VERSION TO ELIMINATE THE REQUIREMENT FOR A SEPARATE SEPTIC TANK FOR ADUs
Residences which are on public sewer systems do not require separate sewer connections for ADUs.
In addition, Code 13.16.230/2 does not require separate septic tanks for attached two-family dwellings commonly known as Duplexes.
The question which arises is why a separate septic tank is not required for attached ADUs but required for detached ADUs?
NO ENVIRONMENTAL HEALTH REASON FOR A SEPARATE SEPTIC TANK FOR DETACHED ADUs
I had several contacts with Mr. John McDowell along with consultations with Ms. Kim Withrow (meeting on July 26, 2017). The initial guesses as to why this requirement was inserted in the Code were:
• When a septic tank fails (meaning it runs out of capacity) it is easier to detect the source of the problem.
• Attached ADUs usually have a common sewer line which discharges into the common septic tank.
Following further discussion addressing these concerns, it became apparent that when a septic tank runs out of capacity there is no advantage in determining whether it is the discharge from the main residence or from the ADU that caused it. In either case, the remedy is to empty the tank.
The fact that attached ADUs usually but not always share a common discharge sewer line into a septic tank is not a rational justification for requiring separate septic tanks for detached ADUs which themselves may not have separate sewer discharge lines.
Either way, neither of the above initial concerns turned out to provide any operational advantage to the proper function of two vs. one septic tanks provided the one is dimensioned as per the provisions of the Code from 1 to 10 bedrooms.
An environmental health issue arises only when a septic tank is allowed to become full beyond capacity or when a septic field is not functional. But septic field malfunction is unrelated to whether an ADU is attached or detached or whether there is one or two septic tanks.
SEPARATE SEPTIC TANK REQUIREMENT IS AN IMPEDIMENT TO THE STATE DIRECTIVE
The cost of a separate septic tank ranges from $ 12,000 if access conditions are ideal for a backhoe and a dump truck for the export of the displaced soil which at a minimum is 15 cubic yards (two ten-wheeler loads). Such cost can rapidly escalate to $ 25,000 and above if the site is inaccessible, requiring hand-digging, manual labor to carry all the dirt to a location accessible to a dump truck and the use of a crane for hoisting the septic tank to its otherwise inaccessible hole.
One must consider that residences on septic systems are overwhelmingly in the hills and constructed on slopes where accessible level ground is scarce making the disadvantageous location and the higher installation cost more typical.
Adding such cost to a structure of a maximum 1,200 square feet is an inordinate and unjustified penalty, one which is not founded on environmental health considerations.
One can speculate that at the time the Code adopted the requirement, its intent for whatever reason, was to discourage separate families from utilizing them as their homes, which is exactly contrary to the intent of the State's law.
NAPA COUNTY ADVANTAGES IN INCREASING THE SMALL HOME SUPPLY
In view of the fact that Napa county's economy provides the majority of its jobs to lower income families, it is especially important to the county's interest to make every effort to remove any unnecessary restrictions to the housing of such families. By eliminating the county's requirement for separate septic tanks to allow small kitchens in 1,200 homes can facilitate this objective.
I urge you to re-examine and eliminate this provision in the Code which perpetuates a serious financial impediment to the housing supply and is contrary to the State law objective.
At the Jun 13th Planning Commission Comm. Terry Scott reported out his attendance at a Community Housing Summit sponsored by the county. (Not very well promoted?) The powerpoint presentations made by participants are here: A COMMUNITY SUMMIT: HOUSING FOR ALL IN NAPA COUNTY Lots of info to look at.
A $100,000 shortfall in the maintenance of three farmworker housing buildings has the county scrambling to make up the difference either getting the state taxpayers to chip in or have the farmworkers pay more for their daily lodging. There are 525 members of the Napa Valley Vintners. There are 690 members of the Napa Valley Grapegrowers. I don't know how many member of the Napa Valley Farm Bureau or the clubby Winegrowers there are. There is probably a lot of overlap so lets just take the 690 members as a minimum. Divided into the $100,000 that's just a $145/yr increase in the measly $10/acre/yr subsidy already levied on agricultural land owners to subsidize the housing costs of the workers that make their businesses possible. Why is this even an issue? Vintners/Grapegrowers - look at the comments to the online articles. This is a real PR black eye.
Gary Margadant adds:
NapaFi - The Napafication of the Event Center and Farm Labor. Perhaps the solution to the housing problem lives on the doorstep of every Employer (Wineries, Vineyards or Labor Contrators) in Napa County. Maybe they should provide a minimum amount of housing on their farms and business premises for these low paid workers; say housing for 1 person for every 10 acres of vineyard worked or managed. It is easy for owners to secure housing on farm land since it is exempt from CEQA review and a lot of bureaucracy. Manufactured housing on wheels like a small cabin, hooked to septic, electricity and water, just like the Carneros Inn.
David Heitzman adds:
Safety Code Sections 17030 - 17039 is where you find Employee housing code and Napa County does the required yearly inspections. This is not in the building codes and since it is a State Program the County has to (and does) abide by these regulations. You are very correct Gary. Housing could easily be provided by the vineyards/wineries, event centers, or restaurants or hotels --- they could legally even use RVs and/or trailers. The State enforces this as Employee Housing and not specifically Farm Worker Housing.
Cindy Heitzman adds:
Correct. The state has a program that permits "employee housing" and it is run under a program that can be administered at the local level (Health Dept.) or by the State (Housing and Community Development). I was involved with this in St. Helena and the county did not want to administer it. The state will do it and it requires a permit to operate employee housing and annual inspections. It's a real eye-opener as to what can be done without local approval.
Reading some of the comments is pretty depressing. Everyone wants to be on the tourism bandwagon. The county gets its TOT. Homes become mini hotels earning much more than they can from regular rentals. Home owners seeking a better place to live get a boost in the resale value. The only loss is the life of a real community with affordable housing and places that people actually want to live. The residents can now afford to move to Oregon where real life still exists. The city doesn't seem to see any downside to the unquestioned embrace of tourism as their reason for being. The Butler Report is here.
This is a part of what the battle of the last couple of years has been about. Does this place survive as a real community with its distinct agricultural, small town, rural character only made possible in an urban world by its famous agricultural export? Or does it become a good-life shopping mall and theme park, an expansion of the definition of agriculture that needs no real community life in support and is run by absentee landlords, estate owners and corporations.