Sup. Pedroza's Town Hall: a difference of opinion
NVR 8/11/17: Napa Supervisor Pedroza on the firing line at town hall meeting
As town halls have been going in this country of late, that of Sup. Pedroza on Aug 7th was a civilized affair. Our Supervisor started out his presentation expecting some disagreement - we may disagree, he said, but disagreements lead to better decisions - and gave a smooth presentation of the background statistics and his program for a healthy future Napa, with more affordable housing and more jobs and a flyover at the Soscol junction. The powerpoint is here.
There was a bit of pushback. The issues that have been of greatest concern to residents in the Soda Canyon, Atlas Peak, Montecello Rd regions were given their most fulsome airing in Cindy Grupp's comments: Citizens are not listened to. Dissenting expert opinions are dismissed out of hand. There is no balance of interests between residents and developers - the developers win every time. The supervisors are ignoring the hundreds of people that showed up for the Mar 10th 2015 joint BOS-PC meeting to protest against the level of development occurring. She quoted from the petitioner in the recent court decision in Sonoma, in its failure to consider the true impacts of development in their CAP: "It is time to admit that perpetual growth is not sustainable."
Other speakers also voiced concern. Yeoryios Appalls asked why, with $80 million in tourism taxes in 2014, the roads aren't fixed. Where is the cost benefit analysis for all the tourism development that is going on. Harris Nussbaum asked how, with 5000 people on the waiting lists for housing and more low paying jobs being added to the county with every project approval, the housing crisis will not be solved with the handful of difficult-to-realize low cost housing units in the pipeline. We aren't going to build our way out of the housing crisis. Barbara Gubbia asked how fast-tracking wineries, a proposal Yeoryios Apallas called a solution looking for a problem, would benefit residents. Anne Polotas asked about the 1000 opposition signatures ignored in the Mountain Peak decision. Residents don't have a government that listens.
I listen, Sup. Pedroza responded, but I respectfully have a difference of opinion.
As I found out in a previous meeting with Sup Pedroza, at each occasion that the negative trajectory of tourism development is brought up, rather than discussing it, Sup Pedroza cuts off the discussion with, well, we have a difference of opinion. Next question. He knows that the development projects that he is supporting and promoting are generating the traffic and housing problems, and that any discussion that questions that relationship is one discussion that he does not wish to have. Just concentrate on mitigating the impacts.
Sup. Pedroza began his presentation with some raw statistics that seemed in a nutshell to encapsulate our problems: Less than 1%/yr population growth in the county (actually .07% and projected to decline
) probably due to the high cost of housing, and 14% growth in jobs since 2014, (actually 3.1%/yr
) , due mostly to the expansion of the tourism and construction industries. The difference between jobs and housing creation leads to both housing shortages and traffic congestion, the principal impacts that everyone focuses on. The reality is that as long as the new-housing-to-new-jobs ratio remains at 1 to 4, no amount tweaking will alleviate the increasing impacts - they will only get worse.
He also knows that the imbalance will not be solved by building affordable housing - yet he proposes it as a solution. 4 projects were presented that may generate 200 affordable housing units when they are realized years from now. As Mr. Nussbaum pointed out there are 25 times that number of families on waiting lists for affordable housing now. How many more will be waiting by the time the projects are completed. Affordable housing is a feel-good talking point, but no solution to the jobs-housing imbalance
The one solution he will not discuss is on the other side of the housing-jobs equation: limiting job creation by limiting the urban development. It is, of course, against the DNA of any politician to disparage job creation. But job creation is the essence of urbanization, and if the county is interested in remaining an agricultural economy, as it often claims, then job creation in the non agricultural sector must be looked at differently than in a traditional economy based on ever increasing job growth.
The real difference of opinion between this supervisor and many of his constituents, is in whose interests are to be served. Sup Pedroza promotes urban development, through housing projects and infrastructure projects and more tourism while presenting the opinion that such development is necessary to preserve the agricultural lands and rural character treasured by his constituents. It is an opinion that aligns neatly with the banking, real estate, tourism and construction interests that stand to profit from Napa's 50 year legacy of open space preservation. These are, not coincidentally, the same interests that contribute generously to political campaigns.
The citizens that are speaking up, however, are of the opinion that the promotion of such urban development is the death of agriculture and the death of the rural character that they treasure. Indeed they see the rural character disappearing with every building project approved, in traffic congestion, loss of affordable housing and local businesses, a landscape defaced with building projects. Those impacts are not opinions. They are the reality created by an opinion that continuing development projects will have a less-than-significant impact on, or are more important than, our rural, small-town way of life. It is an opinion with which many in the county respectfully, or not so respectfully, disagree.
Napa Vision 2050 Town Hall: a multitude of opinions
NVR 8/11/17: Residents have say at Napa Vision 2050 forum
I wasn't at the Napa Vision town hall three days later. On reading Barry Eberling's account and on reviewing notes taken by a participant at the meeting the proposals seemed to encompass a wide gamut of opinions, some of which might be geared to slowing the urban development of Napa County, and some, like a commuter rail system or affordable housing projects, aimed at reducing impacts to and fears of current residents, will in execution only further urbanize the county and induce future urban growth.
Beyond the absolute moratorium on development, I was looking for suggestions to slow the pace of development, in the way that minimum parcel sizes and 1% housing growth cap and voter approved rezoning did to curb the growth of housing development in past decades. Yet the urban development of Napa county through tourism and industrial uses is every bit as great a threat to the agricultural lands and rural character that housing presented 40 years ago. And the strategies required to stop the urbanization should be just as radical.
As suggested, and as was suggested at the May 10th 2015 joint BOS-PC meeting, a first step would be to consider a big picture general plan that integrates county and city issues and begins to look at a desired limit to ultimate growth of the county. The vision needs to be restated and should answer the question, put to developers as well as preservationists: what do you want the county to look like 50 years hence? (I would like fewer buildings, less traffic and less population than it does now, of course.) And then ask, how does one make it so?
But perhaps even before that, an initiative should be put before the voters to gage support for a radical slowing of urban growth in the county. Or else an initiative proposing to limit the amount of future tourism and industrial development in the way that Proposition A in 1980
limited housing development. Is such a limitation either legal or feasible? Proposition A was challenged and found legal. I don't know if a limitation on tourism or growth in general would be so, and it would probably depend on the metrics used to measure both, but that is the kind of solution, rather than adding more transport infrastructure or housing, that can begin to control the urban trajectory the county is on. Once future development controls are in place then there is the possibility that housing and transport fixes might help.
Proposition A 1980
Napa County Policy AG/LU-119 Growth Management System
The official Policy AG/LU-119 begins on page AG/LU-74 of the Napa County General Plan Land Use Element
Napa Vision 2050 will be having another Town Hall, this time in St. Helena, on Thurs Sep 7th 2017, 7:00pm at the Native Sons Hall, 1141 Oak St.