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South Napa County
Oct 31, 2014
Where your Napa Valley experience begins
Beginning in the 1980's South Napa County, below the City of Napa has been the designated sacrificial lamb for the county's agrarian dreams. Housing tracts and industrial development, anathema to the vistas of vineyards and wooded hillsides essential to the wine and tourism industries up valley, have been encouraged to blossom in the Napa River wetlands that must be traversed before entering the fabled valley. The Airport/Industrial plan was created in 1985. Napa Valley Corporate Park with its Grape Crusher statue was created in 1988. The City of American Canyon was incorporated in 1991. They joined the heavy industrial sites of the Napa Pipe plant and the Syar quarry and the more genteel Napa State Hospital and Napa Valley College sites to become the service sector for the rest of the county.
Traffic IssuesSouth Napa County has a traffic problem. The road system in the county assures that almost all traffic in and out of the Napa Valley must pass through a choke point between American Canyon and Napa City. In 2012 Highway 12 between the Central Valley and South Napa was widened to 4 lanes, turning on a fire hose of traffic connecting to the expanding industrial areas and putting the city of Fairfield and Vacaville within commute distance of expanding vineyards and hospitality venues. As the county continues to develop as a tourist destination and an industrial hub, the traffic in this location is becoming a major concern as development continues to outpace the capacity of the roads. South County Traffic Issues have a blog page here
Napa PipeThe Napa steel pipe plant closed down in 2004. By 2008 the site was being looked at by the county as a potential mixed-use housing site to fulfill the mandate for affordable housing which was now being required by the regional Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG). A private developer agreed to do the project with the affordable housing as a small part of the total. It is the largest urban development project ever undertaken in Napa County. The Napa Pipe Project has its own blog page here.
Watson RanchThe other mega project in South Napa, the 1200 unit housing project proposed above and around the cement works ruins in American Canyon is now under development. We will continue to follow it on a new Watson Ranch Page.
Napa Pipe will be a major piece of urbanization, 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.
WarehousesMuch of the development in South Napa County has been in warehouse projects. The wetlands at the intersection of the Napa River and the bay form an economical base for the acres of concrete slabs that need to be poured. What used to be an expanse of vast natural wetlands calming the traveler leaving the chaotic city in the approach to the fabled valley, is now reduced to an alley between the tilt-ups. The traveler must now run a gauntlet of Semi-tractor-trailers making their way to and from the Jameson Canyon freeway. And there seems to be no end in sight to the projects being proposed and approved.
The LTE above comes from the board of the Jack L. Davies Agricultural Land Preservation Fund. It makes the point that allowing urban development on ag land just because the land is not suitable for grapes is a dangerous precedent. The loss of any agricultural land is a threat to all agricultural land in the county. It is a sentiment I totally agree with.
I'm not sure if the JLD Ag Fund has weighed in on specific projects before. I wish they would take the same public stance when it comes to the use of ag land for tourist attractions like wineries and resorts. They also should have have been more concerned about the loss of the Hess property just to the east and the loss of the Ghisletta property to city annexation. Napa farm land is being urbanized almost every week at the county's planning comissions and governing boards, and it is only a matter of time before Napa farmland as a whole is seen as less desirable than the residential, commercial and industrial uses that Napa's burgeoning urban "growth" economy requires.
A vineyard in the county wetlands just north of American Canyon is generating a lot of angst about the conversion of ag land to urban development. It should. But I'm a bit mystified by the concentration of interest, from the county, wine industry "stakeholders", LAFCO and activists alike, in the loss of what, given rising sea levels, has become marginal land for grapes. At the same time much less concern is voiced about the loss of prime vineyard land in the ag preserve to tourism development (see here) and the loss of a still larger, more inland and much more visible vineyard to warehouses a mile to the east on the Hess-Laird property. (see below).
Update 5/22/21 Hess-Laird vineyard conversion at the BOS
The BOS decided unanimously 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 re-designation 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 to 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 Supervisors meeting on Jun 22nd and the swift passage of the project through the County meat grinder.
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 megalopolis 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 vineyards, 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 un-built 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 bucolic 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 tilt-up 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?
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.
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.