Several development issues are ongoing south of the City of Napa, Napa Pipe chief among them, and I will continue to follow them here. Napa Pipe will be a major piece of the development, along with the Watson Ranch/Town Center Project [zoning map] and the Gasser North and Century Center projects on Imola, occurring between American Canyon and Napa that is now on the verge of uniting the two and creating a Napa-Vallejo metropolitan area. Napa Pipe, Watson Ranch and Gasser North will add perhaps another 4000 voters to the county rolls, most, probably, with a greater interest in shopping centers than in vineyards. The industrial-commercial development in Napa Pipe, and the large area of American Canyon and the airport targeted for light industrial will create the need for even more housing and more urban voters. Urban development is a ponzi scheme in which governments must always approve more projects to generate ever more revenues to support the infrastructure and service costs of previous developments - and so on. The pressure to vote to change the agricultural zoning in the county will be relentless, increasing with each new development. The demographic changes in the county's voters has been clearly laid out by the NVR editor, Sean Scully, in a couple of articles here and here.
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".
The other mega project in South Napa, the 1200 unit housing project proposed above and around the cement works ruins in American Canyon seems to be coming alive agin after a year in limbo. We will continue to follow it on a new Watson Ranch Page.
The BOS decided unanamously to have PBES begin the process needed to change the zoning of the property. It will take some time. The 3-person development wing of the board felt that the new road would be a boon to ease traffic congestion on Hwy 29 and wondered how the project could be accelerated. The Supes made no mention about how much traffic the new development will add to the congestion. Sup. Dillon wondered where staff was going to get all the time to work on the project. Sup. Wagenknecht wondered what the real benefits were, and would not guarantee that he would vote to approve the project later. Sup. Pedroza, as usual, lauded the sanctity of agriculture before he approved the conversion of another 281 acres of it into warehouses. This decision is not about agriculture he said, but about how our communities are growing.
Open space activist Barry Christian, in public comment (beginning at 1:57:30 into the video), most clearly defined what was at stake: the traffic was not going to relieved by adding a new mega development; replacing agriculture with more profitable uses is not a good direction in county policy, and the loss of one more vista in the approach to the Napa Valley is not a benefit to visitors or residents whose joy in being here is the beauty of the county's open spaces
Update 5/20/21 Hess-Laird vineyard conversion
A site plan for the conversion of the Hess vineyard just north of American Canyon into industrial parcels has been submitted to the County. It requires a change in zoning from AWOS to Industrial in order to proceed. The request will be taken up by the Board of Supervisors at their June 22, 2021 meeting (Agenda and Documents). The 281 acre property spans from the northern edge of American Canyon to the Napa Flea Market. It may be the largest single rezoning from agriculture to industrial use in the county's history. (Not counting the creation of American Canyon, of course). By comparison, Napa Pipe is 154 acres. It is also the largest area of producing vines removed for urban development.
Prior to the 2008 General Plan, the property was zoned industrial, but was rezoned AWOS in the General Plan update, with the provision that it "shall be considered for redesignation to an Industrial designation if Flosden/Newell Road is ever extended north of Green Island Road, through the property." The cause of that interesting inversion of the normal rezoning pattern needs a little research.
The rezoning will require a modification ot the General Plan. It is unclear why this property, unlike the few square feet of terrace at Don Giovanni's in 1994, doesn't require a vote of the people under Measure J/P. [Update: The Hess property is not subject to Measure J per County-supplied excerpts from Genreal Plan]
Watson Ranch, the massive housing project that extends Newell Drive along its eastern edge, was approved in late 2018. Some of the Hess vineyards have been left fallow since, with more vines pulled out after the 2020 harvest. There is still an extension from Watson Ranch to the Hess property, crossing a railway line, that needs to happen. Although it is unclear when, or if ever, the Newell Road extension will be finished, developers are chomping at the bit to buy more industrial land in Napa. And the recent removal of the vineyards would seem to imply that development interests and the property owners know the outcome of the Supervsors meeting on Jun 22nd and the swift passage of the project through the County meatgrinder.
The property will provide direct access via S. Kelly Rd to the Jameson Canyon freeway (Lincoln Hwy) without having to use Hwy 29 and its 29/Airport Rd bottleneck. It will, of course, create a new bottleneck at the Lincoln Hwy/S Kelly Rd intersection. The significance of the widening of the Jameson Canyon highway, championed by Sup. Bill Dodd, to the urban development of Napa County can't be overstated. It has made possible the development of an industrial hub that gives the central valley wine industry a link to the Napa name, and it eases the use of commuting workers and contractors from outside the county allowing continued growth of the tourism industry. It also lays the groundwork for a Highway 12 freeway connecting the central valley to Sonoma county, and the opportunity for massive tourism projects along its route. (See the Hudson and Reata wineries.)
The project is one more building block in the urbanization of the space between Napa and the rest of the Bay Area and another addition to the alley of warehouses that will define the entry to the Napa Valley. It is one more indication of the difficulty in maintaining Napa as an agricultural enclave in the expanding meglapolis for the next 50 years. Napa wines have already been priced out of the world marketplace because of the urban-level land and labor prices, and now are desperately trying to survive as a tourist good. The Napa wine industry's survival, embodied by the warehouses that will bury the Hess vinyards, seems to be moving toward the claim of being the cellaring and bottling capital of California's wine industry, a mark of status on the back of the bottle if not the front.
As was the intention, no doubt, the title of Noel Brinkerhoff's article, less the question mark, could be the epitath on the Ag Preserve's tombstone.
The scale of the Napa Logistics Park development is more visible when you realize that IKEA's northern California distribution center would fit iinto just one of its four buildings. Napa Logistics Park is only a part of the unbuilt industrial development in the AmCan Industrial area and the Napa Airport industrial area just to the north. Who would have thought that Napa would eventually be known more as a light industrial center, a blue-collar Silicone Valley, rather than a bucholic agricultural Eden. Yet that will be the overwhelming reality of the "Napa Experience" as visitors are stuck in the traffic jam at Bottleneck Junction with an alley of tiltup warehouses as their only view of Wine Country. And no 600 foot setbacks here.
The fact that real estate interests are bemoaning the scarcity of industrial property and that the county is suggesting that vineyard land with less expensive grapes might fill the bill shows where things are headed. All that is needed now is a definition for "less expensive" to be codified in the next update of the general plan. Under $10,000/ton, perhaps?
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?
Just as the ink dries on the Napa Pipe project, which, in the traffic it will generate and the voters it will house, will change everyone's lives in the Napa Valley, here comes the mega-expansion of the Meritage resort next door. This approval by the airport commission (the county planning commission+2) is an initial clearance so the the real planning review by the Napa City planning commission can get under way. The county jail just up the road is also moving toward approval. Industrial projects continue to be built just south of the Soscol/29 junction. All will add who knows how much traffic to the already overcrowded entry to the valley. My screed on the traffic issues of Napa County is here.
When is the planning commission going to look at the cumulative impacts of all these projects. I'm sure over the last 20 years there have always been elaborate traffic studies for each project that conclude another left turn lane or signal will mitigate the impacts. But the traffic is approaching gridlock anyway. The mitigations, even if they work, of course just push the increased traffic down the road, beyond the purvue of the traffic report.
When is the planning commission going to demand that the planning department come up with an analysis of the traffic problem that accounts for the cumulative effect of all of the projects approved or in process in the county before one more project like the Meritage expansion is approved. A development moritoium is essential if solutions are to be found to the current and near future traffic problems. I suspect that there is no solution short of freeways filling the valley which will themselves bring more development.
As I sit stalled through two signals at the Jameson Canyon/29 interchange, I think that the development in the valley has already exceeded the carrying capacity of the roads that access it. What justification can there be to consider more development projects when it is quite possible that it will be impossible to reach them. In 1990 the county concluded that they were not going to be able to mitigate the traffic impacts that might be caused by the approval of the WDO. Despite that conclusion,I don't think that they came close to envisioning the level of development that has occurred in its wake. The county needs to stop, not just to review where they are going with all this, because it is already obvious where we are going, but to develop the policies necessary stop this direction entirely. Now.
The future of Napa County still stands in the balance as the city of Napa considers where its limited resources might best be spent: Enabling a grand development scheme that will continue to suck city revenues to provide the water, utility, road and school infrastructure needed - at the same time increasing the urbanization that will eventually kill the wine industry. Or pulling back on its rate of development so that the city and county can work together on a long term commitment to a sustainable, agricultural small town environment that benefits residents and the wine industry alike.
The supervisors have been working for years on this plan as a solution to the ABAG mandated housing that the county must supply between 2014 and 2022 and beyond. It is a serious problem for a county short on land for urban development. Developer Keith Rogel came in with an offer they couldn't refuse. The problem has always been convincing the city to take on the burden of annexing the project once built. The city will lose money servicing just the housing, and the key was the significant sales tax revenue promised by a Costco. Without those revenues the city isn't interested. As of this date the city has been unwilling to agree to supply water unless the developer guarantees that those revenues will be paid to the city even if the Costco, for some reason, doesn't get built. Costco is unwilling to commit until it knows about the water. It is an impasse that had the Supervisors, who have a state mandated June 30th deadline to get the water supply issue resolved in their housing proposal, visibly furious at their June 9th meeting.
As with the tourism industry, Napa Pipe is a devil's bargain. It gets the state off the county's back in the short run. In the long run there is no upside for the city, the county, the wine industry or the county's residents. The city will eat up the Costco revenues on services, infrastructure and schools for the project. The 190 units of affordable housing will not even cover the number of low wage jobs the project will create and the ABAG mandate will be even larger next time. Workers will still have to drive to their jobs in town. The 20 minutes residents might save not having to go to the Vallejo Costco will be eaten up in the traffic jam at the Soscol/29 junction. The traffic impacts will be a nightmare for residents, workers and tourists alike. And those that feel increased urbanization at the edge of the ag preserve will relieve development pressure on the vineyards are in denial.
This massive project, with its far-flung impacts and eternal commitment of dwindling resources, should not be built.
Napa Pipe would, however, provide an excellent place for Bottlerock and other Napa Expo events that cause major but infrequent traffic issues. The existing expo site could then more purposefully be used to provide the affordable housing near to town that is needed for its low wage tourism workers.
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.
Jeff Tucker, Director of Administrative Services/Chief Financial Officer Napa Sanitation District
1515 Soscol Ferry Road, Napa, CA 94558
Fax: 707-258-6048 jtucker@NapaSan.com www.NapaSan.com
Reminder: Please RSVP if you will be attending this community discussion. We would like to see you there and hear your input!
Winery Waste Public Forum January 27, 2015
The Napa Sanitation District is hosting a community discussion on winery waste. The existing solutions, either trucking millions of gallons of winery waste annually from Napa County down to the East Bay Municipal Utilities District (EMBUD), or constructing and operating pretreatment systems, can be costly and time consuming to manage. Trucking has the additional problem of leaving a significant carbon footprint. The purpose of the public forum is to explore various options available to the community for a less expensive alternative to managing this waste and reduce the carbon impact of trucking waste.
You are Invited to Attend
The District is inviting those in the community who have an interest is discussing a solution to this problem to attend the Public Forum. This includes wineries that are currently trucking waste, those who currently pretreat and/or discharge to Napa Sanitation, those looking to locate winery facilities in the area, and those who have an interest in helping wineries with new locations or with designing systems for managing this waste.