Development doesn't pay for itself. It doesn't. [If] you are looking at Napa Pipe now in south Napa, where a developer again is circulating memos showing how much profit it would generate, the profit might be actually true but it isn't really profit, because the cost items are all left out, whether it's traffic, clean air, noise, health, education and other items [concerning] social welfare.
- Volker Eisele, 2009
My first exposure to Napa Pipe, by accident, was at the Oct 29th, 2014 County Planning Commisson meeting. It was the day they turned over the project, after years of hearings, to the Board of Supervisors for approval, then on to the planning staffs of the county and city of Napa to iron out the quite substantial nitty gritty. They were done with their task, visibly relieved. Chair Fiddaman conjured an image of Pontius Pilate washing his hands.
For 8 years now the county has been promoting the development of a brownfield site within the county on the Napa River just above the Southern Crossing. It is the site of the former Kaiser Steel plant and was bought by a corporation led by developer Keith Rogal in 2005. Mr. Rogal's previous development is the Carneros Inn housing tract and resort carved out of the agricultural open space in Carneros in 2005. His new development is known as the Napa Pipe Project, and it will include a Costco, 165,000 sf of industrial/office space, 40,000 sf of retail space, a hotel, senior center, and an ever diminishing number of housing units, currently at 945 which include 190 units of affordable housing. It is probably the largest single development in the county's history.
From the beginning the project presented problems for every other public body in the county. The cities of Napa, Yountville and American Canyon, the Napa Valley Unified School District, the Napa County Farm Bureau expressed serious concerns. (There were probably more but I gave up trying to go through all the opposition correspondence this project has generated!) The tenaciousness of the county Board of Supervisors, led by Bill Dodd, is the only reason that it has withstood the resistance, particularly from Napa City. Only recently has there been a shotgun wedding, or rather engagement at this point, arranged between the county and the City of Napa to push it forward. The city has tentatively agreed to expand into the site to provide necessary services as the housing units and commercial developments are completed.
The county's ostensible interest has been to provide the housing that the county must supply to fulfill the ABAG mandated allotment of 180 units, including 113 very low to moderate income units, in the 7 year period from 2014 to 2022. (At one point the City of Napa offered to fulfill 80% of that allotment within the current city limits if the county would back off the project. To no avail. ) But why is Napa Pipe necessary to satisfy ABAG requirements?. In the County General Plan 2014 Housing Element, 230 unit locations have been identified in the county (table H-F), without adding the 945 units of Napa Pipe or the very contentious 191 units proposed for Angwin. The county can fulfill its requirement through 2022 without Napa Pipe. The irony is that the 190 units of affordable housing in the project will not even accommodate the minimum wage workforce of the hotel, retail and nursing home facilities within the development, let alone the 113 units destined for current moderate to low income people. The need for affordable housing will be made even more dire by building the project.
The city, no doubt, has an interest in the prospect of a high revenue generating Costco (and hotel) to relieve the infrastructure and service costs they have taken on from previous development projects. And the citizens of Napa voted to annex the property largely so that they can have a Costco to call their own. Costco so far has been mum on their intentions probably still considering how much they can milk in concessions to come in.
In 2008 Measure N was placed on the county ballot to stop Napa Pipe. With its strong growth contols, Measure N may prove to have been the last best chance Napa County had to maintain its agricultural character. Keith Rogal spent at least $700,000 in opposition and the measure was defeated by 600 votes, probably a half of the number of voters that will occupy Napa Pipe upon completion. In homage to Orwell he called the opposition campaign "Keep Napa Napa".
Following this article the previous day in the Register, Bulldozers busy at Napa Pipe, the paper has provided some history on the project for those unfamiliar, and those all too familiar, with the largest, and probably most impactful, urban development project in Napa's history. Billed as a hedge to avoid housing development up valley, it is really just the harbinger of a Napa Valley indistinguishable from the rest of Bay Area urban sprawl. How did we get here?
At the Napa City Council meeting on July 21st, 2015 Ray Tooker, the city's Community Development Director, presented the final, final, final negotiation between the City, the County and the Developer on the Napa Pipe Project. The city council signed off on the agreements necessary to allow the project to proceed including the final issue of promising to provide city water for the project. It is of course the harbinger of death for the tattered agricultural ambitions of the Napa County General Plan. My rant on Napa Pipe is here.
But it was this slide from Mr. Tooker's presentation, as he put forward the steps that the city council must now take, that truly summed up the future of Napa County.
The idea of a greenbelt around Napa to prevent it from becoming just another indistinguishable part of the Vallejo-Napa metropolitan area faded some time ago. The areas south of the Soscol/29 junction have long been slated for industrial development and the parcels are currently being filled willy nilly, pushing against both sides of Hwy 29. (no 600' setback here.) The 1988 development of the Napa Valley Corporate Park, now Napa Valley Commons, between Napa Pipe and Soscol, killed off one of the better opportunities to maintain a buffer between Napa and American Canyon.
The grape-crusher monument built as part of the corporate park has always seemed an apt metaphor for squeezing ever more profits out of Napa land through building projects. Monuments and plaques may eventually be all that is left of Napa's agricultural history. (The scenic overlook at the monument is also a bad omen: the view presented up the Napa Valley is of the potemkin vineyard of the Meritage Resort in the foreground and the roofs and mechanical equipment of the corporate park blocking the view of the valley.)
But the powerpoint slide above was even more poignant in that it truly represents the last vestige of a once laudable idea to try to control urban growth. It highlights in the clearest way possible the failure of the city and the county in the face of development pressure to be able to follow through on their goals. Sad.
There is still an elaborate annexation scheme, needed to incrementally transfer property from the county to the city as the project is built, that must be approved by the state-supervised LAFCO agency that regulates urban development. That will involve another round of public hearings. It's never quite over.
Napa Pipe is not yet a done deal - there is still hope for the future of the county.
The county needs 180 of RHNA housing through 2022. Instead they are building 945 units of housing, 200,000 sf of retail-commercial-industrial space, a hotel, a nursing home plus a Costco, all in a development frenzy that will leave the city and county facing unfunded infrastructure and service costs, the residents and visitors facing vast increases in traffic in the south Napa bottlenecks, and growers and vintners facing ever more urban voters more interested in shopping centers than vineyards and wineries. Be sure to read the comments to the article.