City of Napa

Jan 22, 2015

The revolt of the people who lived in the City of Napa was as important to the preservation of agriculture as the Ag Preserve itself. In the long run, it was really more important, in my view.
- Ginny Simms, 2009 (Napa city planning commissioner & County Supervisor 1968-78)
(JLDAgFund Oral Histories p. 215)

The Napa County General Plan protects agriculture in the vast majority of the county under AP and AW zoned areas. It establishes that urban development be concentrated in the 5 municipalities and a couple of urban "bubbles". The basic attitude is "don't touch ag land and you can do whatever you want within the urban boundaries". The boundaries of the municipalities, established under a slow growth attitude championed by Ginny Simms, John Tuteur and others, are compact and well defined by Rural Urban Limit (RUL) lines.

Volker Eisele, Ginny Simms and others made a further effort to protect ag with the passage of Measure J in 1990 and its extension with Measure P in 2007. It required the change of zoning of ag lands to be voted by the citizens of the county. No longer could it be done by agreement of the supervisors and the city councils. Like the ag preserve of 1968, Measure J was a landmark piece of legislation, quickly adopted elsewhere to promote slow growth policies. Until I was exposed to Napa Pipe, however it was hard to see that the protections of the Napa General Plan to contain urban growth have become paper thin.

Measure J's strength in 1990 is becoming its Achilles heel in 2014, despite its renewal through 2058. A vote of the people can change ag use to urban use at any time - a simple majority of the vote. And the voters of Napa County are rapidly changing. Sean Scully of the NVR has done editorials on the changing demographics of the county here and here. The outlook is not encouraging for agricultural protection.

The populations of American Canyon and Napa City have expanded to now constitute 70% of the county population. As the passage of Measure P in 2007 showed there were still enough urban residents in those cities committed to the idea of an agricultural economy to support passage. But the numbers continue to shift. Projects like Napa Pipe, Watson Ranch and the 500 units of the Tulocay Village, a part of the huge Gasser Master Plan area on the east bank of the river just north of Imola, will bring a dramatic increase in the voters more concerned with shopping centers than vines.

The county, in an effort to relieve pressure on the up valley rural areas created the city of American Canyon in 1992 and both cities have had a free rein to suck up much of the development lust directed toward such an undeveloped county. But it was a Faustian bargain and we are now at the point where the developers can get their due. It is a little more difficult for development interests to throw money at voters than it is to throw it at supervisors, but not much. As Keith Rogal showed in the "Keep Napa Napa" campaign and happened again with the "costco-of-your-own" Measure A campaign, convincing voters to approve urban development is a proven strategy.

Update 7/29/15
In a meeting with Sup. Diane Dillon, she mentioned that the municipalities were always pushing for annexation of county land and the supervisors were always resisting. I replied by saying that a county vote under measure P would be required. No, she said: annexations, as opposed to changes in county zoning designations covered by Prop P, are just agreements between city councils and the BOS. I was stunned at my ignorance, and even more stunned at how little protection Prop P really affords.]

Those concerned about the survival of agriculture in the county need to move into the city planning debates post haste, just as Ginny Simms has continued to do, seemingly forever.

Napa General Plan 2040 planning process page (with maps and documents)
2000-2010 Census Statistics
2010 Historical survey for the Soscal/Gateway East redevelopment project

NVR 3/16/21: Napa general plan envisions more walk-able, bike-friendly main avenues in city
NVR 2/18/20: Wine becomes a growing force in Napa County's downtowns
NVR 1/19/19: Wine Country comes to downtown Napa
NVR 1/19/19: Housing, civic center, watersheds among Napa council's priorities for 2019
NVR 3/12/18: Napa: Housing costs, supply are city residents' top concern
NVR 12/6/17: LAFCO opens door to piping Napa water to Carneros resort
NVR 11/28/17: Downtown Napa's newest luxury hotel opens its doors
NVR 9/29/17: Meritage Resort's massive expansion takes shape in south Napa
NVR 9/06/17: Napa, developer start talks on new City Hall, housing and hotel
NVR 8/22/17: Napa wrestles with affordable housing for service workers
Bertolucci LTE 8/2/17: Keep Napa for Napans
NVR 6/14/17: Napa planners to review Bounty Hunter's new downtown building
NVR 6/5/17: Napa Valley Wine Train owners plan $100 million resort development
NVR 5/17/17: Altamira family reviving plans for a winery/hotel project on Silverado Trail
NVR 2/20/17: Planned Napa apartment development sold for $34 million
NVR 2/20/17: Napa asks, How many hotel rooms are enough?
NVR 2/14/17: Major changes in the works for downtown Napa
NYTimes 2/1/17: A Waking Giant or a Monster? Developers Eye Once-Sleepy Napa
NVR 1/7/17: Napa marks off retail areas to join major apartment complex
NVR 12/29/16: No. 3 story of 2016: Oxbow District becomes ground zero for developers
NVR 12/7/16: San Diego developer making a big play in downtown Napa
NVR 10/7/16: Napa County selects ambitious developer to buy Oxbow property
NVR 9/4/16: Planners endorse 37 east Napa homes despite privacy, tree concerns
NVR 9/6/16: "Foxbow" mixed-use development proposed for Oxbow area
NVR: 8/4/16: Napa builder pans parking fee hike planned for downtown
NVR 7/22/16: Napa planners endorse 282 apartments near Napa River, with more to come
NVR 3/6/16: Napa planners put neighborhood tasting room on hold
NVR 2/19/16: Napa proceeding cautiously on hotel-apartment plan
NVR 2/7/16: Developer cleared to build condo project
NVR 1/20/16: Hotel apartments proposed to replace historic rail car barn
NVR 12/23/15: Beth Painter chosen for city Planning Commission
Who pays the costs of growth?
Fordor cost of growth report


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Keep Napa Gateways Green

Bill Hocker - Sep 30, 2022 11:04AM  Share #2184

Napa's only remaining rangeland
Update 9/30/22
NVR 9/30/22: Napa City Council rejects suggested greenbelt designation for Foster Road

Reversing the Planning Commission's recommendation

NVR 9/18/22: Napa City Council to weigh Foster Road zoning as general plan process nears end

Update 9/5/22
NVR 9/5/22: City of Napa planners recommend Foster Road change, removing Linda Vista extension from draft general plan

Celebratory email from KNGG

Update 5/2/22
Comments on the 2040 Napa City General Plan DEIR are due by Fri. May 6, 2022.
City's 2040 General Plan page is here

KNGG talking points on the Ghisletta/Horseman's mixed use designation

Update 4/5/22

The City of Napa Draft General Plan is now undergoing public scrutiny. The SCR blog post on the plan, dubbed Napavision 2040, is here.

A group of residents has formed to preserve the Foster Road ridge, which includes the Ghisletta Ranch and the Horseman's Association grounds. They have been active in trying to get the City to change its designation of the area in the upcoming General Plan Update from undesignated "Sphere of Influence" to "Greenbelt" to act as a rural gateway to the city. City Staff is proposing to designate it as "Mixed Use" meaning housing and commercial. The properties are both currently outside the city boundary but within the current rural-urban line (RUL), an area long designated for future city annexation. It is the last piece of range-land within the RUL. The community organization is "Keep Napa Gateways Green" and their very well done website is here:

KNGG website

As has happened throughout the county and its municipalities, it falls to individual residents and community groups to protect the rural environment that is our reason to live here, and is the county's nominal claim to fame, against the constant development pressure to monetize that fame. This community activism, unfortunately, is now necessary in the face of government addiction to development fees, campaign contributions, and taxes and mitigation fees that never really cover the long term public costs. New approvals are often justified as revenue generators needed to fill public coffers. It is the viscous cycle of urbanization.

For all of my angst over the beautiful Stewart Farm below, it is still outside of the RUL that defines Napa City, and the draft plan makes no attempt to predict its fate in the future. But in looking at the RUL, that portion of the property is the one piece of build-able land that remains to be added to the RUL to fill out the city's unfortunate massive southward expansion into the Stanly Ranch property.

Update 7/26/21
NVR 7/25/21: Memory Lane: The Ghislettas and their dairy

Update 4/26/21

Michael Luttrell LTE 4/25/21: Save Napa's gateway
NVR 4/26/21: Member of Ghisletta family denies plans for developing lands in south Napa

Although the family says that it has "never had an agreement" with any developer (very specific language to use), the fact that the family supports the rezoning of the land for housing in the new general plan, and their dubious rationale that more high-end homes will lead to a general reduction of home prices, is a very ominous sign.

NVR 3/13/21 Foster Road supporters continue push for area’s inclusion in new Napa greenbelts

Stewart Ranch
That hillside along Hwy 29 coming into the Napa Valley, which I now know as the Stewart diary farm, with its picturesque barns, farmhouse, eucalyptus trees and oak-covered knolls has always seemed the essence of rural California now forever disappearing. Even when I first came to Napa in the 1970's in search of bucolic landscapes to photograph, I remember it as a notable landscape composition. It should be preserved in a bell jar as an icon of what California was once-upon-a-time, before such places were buried by developers seeking greater profits from chewing up raw land rather than recycling underused urban land.

As a gateway to the Napa Valley, it is a reminder of a time before vintners began excavating similar hillsides to cage and discipline nature to their own more profitable ends. We love the look of vine covered hillsides, of course, a better example than housing tracts of man's relentless footprint on the land. But to see the vestiges of real life before the advent of the good-life as you drive into this tourist destination is a history lesson well worth preserving for everyone.

The idea of a greenbelt between Napa and the rest of the world has taken a hit over the last few years. In one of many Napa Pipe hearings, a slide flashed up on the screen, almost incidental in its implication for the project, but profound in its implication for the future of Napa.

All of those areas that should have constituted a greenbelt at the edge of Napa rural-urban line are now being filled with buildings. Napa Valley Commons, Airport industrial zone, Stanly Ranch, Carneros Inn, Meritage Resort, Napa Pipe, the Syar expansion, and for that matter the incorporation of American Canyon in 1992, are all filling the boundary that might have separated Napa from the urban sprawl of the rest of the Bay Area. More such projects are coming.

The idea of greenbelts and rural-urban lines, a product of the same enlightened era that created the Agricultural Preserve, seems to have passed. Yet it is heartening that the idea is being revived here and elsewhere. The Greenbelt Alliance is active and full of hope.

But in Napa it is a bit too late. This is not to say that the Foster Road ridge shouldn't be protected. It should. It is a window into what Napa County once was, a reminder to residents and tourists what the land used to look like, and perhaps a tourist attraction itself. But it is a tragedy that before reaching this gateway to the Napa Valley you must first pass through the relentless industrial development to the south, reducing the real entry to the valley to an alley of warehouses. Yes, preserve as much unspoiled landscape as we possibly can. The few still unspoiled wooded hillsides around Napa need to be preserved. We owe that to future generations. But let's admit that the idea of a greenbelt to protect Napa from being engulfed by the greater bay area is a fading memory.

Napa City's Oak Woodlands

Bill Hocker - Mar 16, 2021 11:50AM  Share #1229

Napa woodland slated for urban development
Update 11/16/21
The site of the Napa Oaks II proposal is currently zoned "Resource Area". The legal battle the developer has waged and lost a couple of times is to get the resource designation changed to allow residential development. The City of Napa is now going through the General Plan 2040 Update process, and lo-and-behold, there was a proposal to change the zoning to residential. As the comments indicate, the residents who have been fighting so hard to keep the ridge from being developed were not happy. The plan now seems to reflect that the property will remain resource area.

Update 10/27/20
Wakoh Shannon Hickey LTE 10/27/20: Annexing rural lands can only be a last resort

An eloquent retort to the charge of NIMBY-ism from the son of James Hickey, County Planning Director from 1970 to 1989 who oversaw much of the rural legacy still tresured (by most) in the county today.

Update 9/21/20
NVR 9/21/20: Debate over Napa's future development turns toward future of Foster Road

A pro-developer councilman raised the spectre of "NIMBY-ism" in the concern over protecting the hills west of Napa City from development. In this case, of course, those hills, like all of the hills surrounding the valley, are in the back yard of everyone who lives here.

As I have pointed out elsewhere, the term was invented by developers to denigrate residents' self-interest in protecting the character of their communities. There is no similar distillation of developers' self-interest in profiting from the destruction of that character.

It is up to government to decide whose self-interest is the more important, and since most governments revere wealth creation (for the few) over quality of life (for the many), residents are most often pushed into a more urban future than they would prefer. Given the lipservice that government officials often bestow on Napa's rural heritage and natural envirnoment, one would hope that it would be different here. But as is evident in the hundreds of projects that have been approved in the 6 years this site has existed, a rate that shows no sign of lessening despite climate change, pandemic and the vociferous and legal efforts of conservationists, the urbanization of Napa County continues apace.

The General Plan 2040 documents are here

Update 9/9/20
NVR 9/9/20: Timberhill, Napa Oaks, Foster Road residents oppose intensive homebuilding in Napa's future general plan

Update 2/25/20
NVR 2/25/20: Neighbors fear return of Napa Oaks threat to western hills

Update 6/19/19
The City Council has voted 3 to 2 to deny the request to rezone the Napa Oaks property, thus rejecting the Napa Oaks II proposal.

NVR 6/20/18: City Council narrowly rejects Napa Oaks II homes, 16 years after first veto

Update 6/16/18
Chris Benz LTE 6/18/18: Let's protect Napa city's oaks
Kevin Teague LTE 6/18/18: Why I believe in Napa Oaks
Pat Clay LTE 6/18/18: Napa Oaks offers many benefits

Update 6/16/18
Lisa Batto LTE 6/16/18: Weak argument for luxury housing by the Napa Chamber of Commerce
Sharon Macklin LTE 6/16/18: Chamber should advocate for affordable housing
Napa CofC LTE 6/16/18: Can we decide without divide?
Davidson Homes LTE 6/16/18: We have worked closely with the community on Napa Oaks

Update 6/14/18
NVR 6/14/18: City Council set to resolve battle over Napa Oaks II housing development
Florence Linstrom LTE 6/14/18: Don't approve Napa Oaks II
Suzanne Truchard LTE 6/14/18: Chamber shouldn't take position on Napa Oaks
Carol Barge LTE 6/14/18: The one thing Napa Oaks II can't mitigate
Keith Lindstrom LTE 6/14/18: No to Napa Oaks - report proves we have plenty of existing land zoned for housing.

Update 5/25/18
Stop Napa Oaks has sent out this reminder that the Napa City Council will be deciding the fate of the Napa Oaks II project on Tuesday, June 19th at 6:30pm.

Napa City Council Set to Vote on Napa Oaks II

Update 5/3/18
Christina Bettencourt LTE 5/3/18: Kill Napa Oaks for good
NVR 1/31/18: Council vote on Napa Oaks II homes delayed after release of new quake maps
Duane Cronk (last) LTE 12/28/17: For the right reasons
NVR 12/21/17: City planners narrowly vote against Napa Oaks II homes
SNO 12/21/17: Planning Commissioners vote in a 3-2 split in our favor!

Update 12/7/17
After public testimony the 12/7/17 hearing was continued to 12/21/17 at 5:30pm
SNO update
NVR 12/8/17: Foes of Napa Oaks II housing turn out in force; city planners delay verdict

Tony Truchard: Napa Oaks project will destroy our scenic gateway
Chuck Dresel: Opposed to Napa Oaks, then and now
Eve Kahn: Do we want to destroy our hillsides?

Update 12/5/17
NVR 12/4/17: Battle over Napa Oaks II homes to go before city planners

Napa City Planning Commission meeting on the project, this thursday Dec 7th, 2017. Stop Napa Oaks requests your support and presence here

Update 11/29/17 Meeting Report
NVR 11/28/17: Napa Oaks II developers revise housing plan; neighbors still push back
SNO counterpoints to developer's presentation

Stop Napa Oaks sends this notice after the 11/28/17 presentation hosted by the developers of the 53 unit Napa Oaks housing subdivision slated to replace the oak-covered hillside on the west side of town (pictured). The project will be heard by the Napa City Planning Commission on Dec 7th 2017, with a decision on the project to be rendered in the new year.

The Final EIR describing the project is here (All less-than-significant impacts of course.)

Update 5/4/17
NVR 5/4/17: Possible Truchard winery, Napa Oaks subdivision developers clash
[The Truchard winery was approved on 9/20/17 at this planning commission meeting.]

A clash between tourism urbanization and housing urbanization: The natural landscape of the county loses both ways. The Napa Oaks site should never have been incorporated into the city limits and the housing project is the infinitely more egregious insult to the rural character of the county. The site plan, which shows the tops of the hills being sheared off for building pads, is truly heartbreaking. Let's pray they lose the coming battle with their city neighbors to the east and the Truchards (who seem to be the county ideal of the family farm vintner) to the west. The housing developer's letter does just look like harassment in retaliation for the Truchard's opposition to their project. (The Truchard's opposition letter (at the bottom here), however, is a dead ringer for all of the letters we have written opposing tourism wineries these last 3 years). The best outcome, of course, would be for both to abandon their development plans in order to preserve "the sheer natural beauty of this place".

Napa Oaks II DEIR
Truchard documents Item 8B here

Update 3/1/17: Napa Oaks Development
The Greenbelt Alliance, an organization dedicated to preserving open space in an urbanizing world for 60 years, has just issued a 2017 report At Risk: The Bay Area Green Belt which features the Napa Oaks Project as open space under threat of development. (No mention of Walt Ranch?) More here from the Stop Napa Oaks group.

Stop Napa Oaks petition
Stop Napa Oaks Facebook Page

LTE 6/10/16: Development will have huge impact
LTE 5/4/16; A test of character
LTE 5/3/16: Don't destroy gateway to Napa
LTE 4/18/16: Development would scar the land
NVR 5/3/16: Homebuilder revives plans for rejected Napa development
Napa Oaks II DEIR
NVR 8/1/12: Neighbors demand study of Napa Oaks II hillside subdivision

In true developer fashion this project is named for the environment it destroys. (I grew up in an LA suburb called Sherman Oaks, none of which remained). A part of the oak studded hills that define the rural character of the Napa Valley is to be littered with suburban McMansions. The immediate question when looking at Google maps is why this parcel is within the city limits, surrounded as it is on 3 sides by identical county open space. Not as bad as the absurd Napa gerrymander of Stanly Ranch, but still one of those unfortunate bumps in the urban-rural line that just invites urban expansion into the countryside.

The battles of communities throughout the county these last two years to maintain what is left of Napa's rural character in the face of a resurgence in developer zeal and money has been both heartening, because the desire still exists to retain this place as separate from the rest of the suburban sprawl of the bay area, and discouraging in that governments seem ever more willing to sacrifice that character to developers' interests.

9/4/16: Andersen Ranch Development

Now a second housing project, by the same developer pursuing the Napa Oaks project, is proposed to carve up more of the few remaining Oak Hillsides within the city:
NVR 9/4/16: Planners endorse 37 east Napa homes despite privacy, tree concerns

Napa officially a tourist trap

Bill Hocker - Jan 16, 2019 3:40AM  Share #1983

Update 9/14/19
NVR 2/18/20: Wine becomes a growing force in Napa County's downtowns

NVR 1/16/19: Study supports branding Napa's Oxbow district, showcasing river

Oxbow Branding study

A well done study, but one that has as its purpose the development and marketing of yet another tourist attraction to further urbanize the Napa Valley, adding to the many impacts that are degrading what was until recently a prized rural, small-town quality of life.

It has come at least one building approval too late. From the article: "city leaders can ...consider zoning that would prevent new construction from blocking views of the river and Napa Valley edges". It was obvious that the Black Elk hotel was a bad idea from an urban planning standpoint when it was proposed (see update 7/14/17 here) and yet it was approved anyway. Coming a year after the Black Elk approval, It could be that this study was a result of that unfortunate event. (Or perhaps it was in reaction to the massive Wine Train Hotel proposed next door. Or the Foxbow Hotel just kitty corner. Or maybe it was simply a reaction to the already built, noisy and tacky "The Studio", the true definition of a tourist trap venue.)

Why do government leaders always take action after the fact - waiting for problems to become insoluble before trying to solve them?

Napa Vision 2040

Bill Hocker - Oct 28, 2018 8:07AM  Share #1936

A vision of Napa in 2040
Update 4/5/22
The work on Napa City's General Plan has been grinding on for the last 3.5 years since my last entry below. As of 2/17/22 the Draft plan is now ready for public input. In a sign of the times it the Draft CIty of Napa General Plan Update gets its own website:

Napa 2040 Draft General Plan

Update 10/31/18
NVR 10/31/18: Napa picks 13 advisers to help create city guidebook for growth
NVR 10/28/18: NVR Napa council to choose advisers to shape new general plan

The statements of the Applicants are here in the order they will be interviewed by the Council.

Update 8/25/18
SR press Democtat 8/25/18: Healdsburg set to limit future downtown hotels, require affordable housing offsets on new projects

Healdsburg leads the way. Of course, as usual, government has acted to solve problems when the problems are already beyond being solved. Napa's rewrite of its general plan may, or may not, begin to curb hotel development, but the number of projects already approved and being built will change the character of the town from resident-centric to tourist-centric.

NVR 8/13/18: Napa to seek advisers to guide city's new general plan

The application form to become a member of the General Plan Advisory Committee (GPAC) is here
The City of Napa General Plan 2040 Information page is here

The city's web page summarizes the two community meetings that have already taken place to discuss the future of Napa in the next twenty years, with meeting notes (and breathless video trailers) of each. The high-tech, dense and exciting future envisioned by the panelists will be a bit disconcerting for those that appreciate the rare value of living in a sleepy small town in the urbanized Bay Area. The emphasis, given that the conversation is driven by a government and panelists that hope to profit from development (as probably will most GPAC members), is how to make urban growth, and the transition from a real town to a tourist trap, palatable rather than how to avoid such a fate.

It is obvious that planning guidelines and vision are needed, now more than ever, as the planning commission struggles with one random development proposal after another at each meeting. The pessimism comes from knowing that the GPAC process will be driven by, or co-opted by, those who will profit from ever more urban development, and that soon the mass of people and enterprise they bring to the county will burst out of the rural-urban lines and take down the great Napa agricultural experiment. As Andy Beckstoffer recognized, "Never in the history of mankind has agriculture withstood urban growth long-term, but here we have the best chance." But only if the municipalities as well as the unincorporated county exercise maximum restraint in their building ambitions. Neither is doing so at present.

Fast-tracking Napa's urbanization

Bill Hocker - Sep 26, 2017 10:18AM  Share #1578

2300 Soscol, $2179-$2807 /mo
NVR 9/26/17: Napa seeks looser reins on multifamily housing permits in city

With the onslaught of hotel development beginning to become a concern to all who have valued the quality of life in "sleepy Napa" (the NYT's expression), a second tentacle of urban development is rapidly taking shape in this age of the developer. Already over 2000 units of housing are under review, approved and under construction within the Napa city limits. Now, just as developers have demanded that small wineries not have to go through the public review process, they are also demanding that small housing projects also escape the public scrutiny of the impacts that such developments are having on residents' small-town way of life.

The excuse for the fast-tracked approval process is the need for affordable housing, a very real shortage brought on by years of increasing full-time agricultural workers and the ongoing expansion of the tourism workforce. A handful of the new units will be affordable for hotel or vineyard workers, but most will be market rate units being built for whom? Second homes? Short term rentals? Empty nesters? Perhaps for the construction workers needed for Napa's urbanization. Not for the burgeoning number of modest-wage workers needed for the tourism and agricultural industries that make up the bulk of the economy.

Reading the copy promoting the pictured units here, such projects appear to be speculative development intended to cash in on the same image of the good-life extolled by the wine and tourism industries hoping to fill the vineyards with life-style wineries and the cities with hotels. Such projects are not supplying the needs of existing Napa workers - they are inducing an increase in Napa's affluent and tourist populations, who will then need more low-wage commercial development, adding to rather than reducing the housing need of the county's work force.

Unfortunately we are in a speculative development boom happening everywhere, manifested in Napa County by the expansion of the tourism industry and the promotion an opulent life style. Such speculation is how rural places are urbanized out of existence. To developers, the resistance of impacted residents through government review has become a real bottleneck in their effort to wake up sleepy Napa County - and, as we can see in the proposal to drop public review of some housing projects, they are obviously hoping to do something about it.

Urban development and in-lieu fees (updated)

Bill Hocker - Jul 11, 2016 9:00AM  Share #1230

Update 8/1/16
NVR 8/1/16: Napa to seek more parking funds from downtown builders

Update 7/11/16
NVR 7/11/16 Napa to lift parking requirements on six downtown properties
$20,000/stall is the amount mentioned as an in-lieu fee. Since the cost of parking structures is $30,000/stall (the $12 mil, 400 stall structure mentioned in the article) to $50,000/stall (if undergrounded as would be required on the exempted sites) at the $20,000 rate the city and residents will end up subsidizing the profits of the developer.

Update 7/6/16
On July 7th, 2016, the Napa City Planning Commission is reviewing a proposal for a parking exempt overlay on 6 more properties downtown, similar to the Wiseman building with in-lieu fees to be paid instead. The staff letter for the proposal is here. It is highly unlikely that the city will assess the $50,000/stall needed to actually build new parking garages and the residents of the city will be expected to make up the difference, thereby subsidizing developers' profits. In reality the projects will be built now but the parking garages will only come in the distant future (if at all) and parking problems will become a major issue in the city. An exhortation from Harris Nussbaum to attend the meeting is here.

NVR 4/19/16: Napa planners to weigh downtown buildings, senior home

Re: the Wiseman building, please look at this 2009 cost estimate for a parking structure (now apparently hidden after my link to it). The estimate was $30000 per stall excluding land costs.

The cost of an underground garage was $50000 per stall. If the developer actually were required to provide the parking on the site the costs would probably be higher given the necessity to integrate it into the architecture of the building. And this is 2016. The in lieu fee, rather than $15,500/ stall, should be the actual cost of providing the parking on site.

As in all development projects, whether for industrial or commercial developments or housing projects (or wineries) developers are quite happy to pay in lieu fees because those costs are much lower than actually meeting ordinance requirements or providing mitigations. Guess who pays the cost difference: taxpayers in one form or another. Regardless of the public revenues touted at the planning commission phase, as Volker Eisele said, development never pays for itself, never. Residents are saddled forever with fee increases, tax increases and bond measures to pay for the unfunded costs of urban development. The developers take their profits, including the money saved on parking, and move on to another project - which governments are eager to approve because they need the windfall of new in-lieu fees to pay for the infrastructure needed for previous projects.

This rant is not about this specific project, which appears to be an attractive addition to the downtown. But urban development is ultimately a costly undertaking for the residents that will eventually be asked to pay more to maintain it. And we never ask ourselves, are we interested in living in a more urbanized world and willing to pay for the privilege? For me, and perhaps for others that enjoy their quasi-ruaral life in Napa, the answer is no.

Harris Nussbaum - Jul 10, 2017 7:15AM

[statement to the Napa Planning Commission 7/7/16]

You are our friends, but with some of the decisions you are making, it doesn't seem like it. Many people moved here from Los Angeles to get away from the madness and now it is being created here. Please think about what you want Napa to be in 10 years? Your actions are heating up an already heated Napa economy. It is like cooking food, you burn it and it is ruined. You are here making decisions that will greatly impact what it will be and if you are wrong, you can't go back and change it. I talked with about 100 people in the area. Most are concerned, but said you won't listen, your minds are made-up, so why even bother to come to your meetings. The process feels flawed. Most people didn't know about it.
To start, the approval of the Wiseman building will create problems. Here are a few if the problems this proposal creates.

1) Parking is already a problem in the area and you don't know what it will be like until after what is already in process is completed, so why the urgent rush to make this change now?
2) You greatly underestimated the parking need for the Wiseman building and are doing the same for the entire block. The assumption is mixed use will solve the problem, but there is already a problem. You will need 4 to 5 times what you think will be needed and developers are paying a relatively small % of the real costs when you include land, upkeep, etc.
3) How many parking garages will you need and some of the lots you are building parking spaces on you don't own. They could give you 30 day notice to vacate- like the Cinedome property.
4) Parking garages are ugly and expensive and you really don't have the money to build enough. If you did that money could used for much more worthwhile needs.
4) Local businesses are being forced out by high rents as these new buildings are built.
5) If you change this block, what is to keep you from doing the same to the next one and the next one?
6) You are losing the historic character of the area.
7) There can be to much traffic into, out of and around Napa now-I recently saw a fire truck stuck in traffic on 1st. This will get worse and people will die. I hate to think about what will happen to 1st street when the giant Archer hotel is completed.
8) The business model is good, but it has limits. Reasonable development with parking fits the area better.
9) How do you think this will affect the Church, the schools and people who live in the area?
10) Over development is expensive, It puts stress on the residents emotionally, but also puts pressure on the schools, police, fire, and other services. These costs can be far more than the income they produce for the city.
There is so much more I could say if I had more than 3 minutes. Now it is up to you. I hope you let your conscience help you decide and let it be for the people who live here. Please wait until what is in process now is completed to make this change.

A win-win for Justin Siena

Ginna Beharry - Jul 15, 2015 8:28PM  Share #902

See the article below for what seems to be a respectful resolution to the Justin Siena debate. Great to see the citizens making progress.

Justin-Siena drops shopping center plan, pursues senior center instead

Napa's new logo

Bill Hocker - Jul 1, 2015 12:00AM  Share #910

NVR 6/10/14: Wanting an improved image, Napa will change logo (lots of comments)

The article above is a very old piece of news, but seeing the new logo for the first time today I had to weigh in.

I am alway a bit mystified when someone feels a need to redesign a well-known logo. The logo's purpose is brand recognition - it's costly to rebuild that recognition; sometimes it never gets rebuilt. Was there a purpose in getting rid of Mobil's flying red horse? I'm not sure what their logo looks like now. (Of course being the most profitable corporation on earth they may not care what their logo looks like. But they may not have become so profitable without the horse.)

Anyway, the city of Napa has a new logo and I again ask myself why. It's on the left next to the old logo. The old one is technically more accurate since most of the vineyards within the city limits are flat. I like the memorable use of the 2 typefaces in the title of the old one as well. And the restraint in the use of color. I don't quite see the point to the change other than to remove the church from the center of town life. Perhaps that was it - a church-state concern. And I don't think the new one carries an appropriate air of governmental authority - not that I'm into governmental authority.

When I heard about the change last year I decided to make my own proposal. I never submitted it - I don't know why. It was certainly a better reflection of the changes going on in the city. Maybe I should have eliminated the church.

How will Napa City deal with development impacts?

Bill Hocker - Feb 11, 2015 9:39AM  Share #623

Council retreat will look at big picture

This is an ominous quote from the article: "Council members will discuss strategies for increasing economic development, especially in downtown, and review the city’s long-term financial picture."

Development projects full steam ahead - a lot of fees to be made ( to help pay for the unfunded costs of previous projects, no doubt). The economy of the city seems to be thriving, the article adds, but thriving is obviously not good enough, more development is needed.

The Napa County General Plan has always been a punt on fending off development interests in the county. Leave our vineyards alone and you can do whatever you want in the municipalities is the attitude. But the kick-the-can-down-the-road policy has run out of road in the form of too much traffic and not enough water and yet all the developer-controlled city of Napa can think of is more development. The urban-rural dichotomy, designed to appease developer lust for those wide open spaces of the county, doesn't seem to acknowledge that urban development not only creates the impacts of traffic congestion in the rural areas, and the need for the endless suburban mitigations of more signals and more left turn lanes, but also continues to increase pressure to expand the urban rural lines and imports the urban voters necessary to allow that expansion to happen. How does Napa City see the county in 2050? It seems to be looking in the mirror.

Copia to get new developer

Bill Hocker - Feb 6, 2015 3:46PM  Share #607

Announcement of a buyer for Copia may occur soon

A major missed opportunity if Mr. Price & Co doesn't get this. Hopefully more steroidal developers will run into a buzz-saw of enlightened opposition just as Keith Rogal did in his Napa-Pipe-on-Oxbow proposal.

As has been suggested here and here Copia could and should be a major part of a revised wine and tourism equation that has spun out of control in the last few years. Tourism development is moving into the vineyards with many tourism event-centers now slated to pave over the vines. The nominal justification: the vintner needs to place his/her product into the hands of the drinker him/herself in order to turn a profit - direct to consumer. For many, DTC its just the economic excuse necessary to justify building a winery-of-ones-own as a symbol of aspiration to the good life - actually making money is something one does elsewhere.

It's time to end ego statements nibbling away at the vines, and confront the DTC excuse. If there are honest small winemakers that need hands-on DTC to survive, let it happen at the Grand Napa Wine Market located at Copia. It doesn't mean ending winery tours and tastings, but it does mean ending winery "marketing events", with their many community impacts, as a principal marketing tool. Using Copia as a major element of the small-label wine industry to reduce the desirability of vineyard-to-event-center conversions would be an eminently suitable use of this temple to wine. And all those 500-person banquets that wineries around the valley want to host - let them do it at Copia. Need a conference center to go with that new tacky downtown hotel? Copia's perfect. And the bewildered tourists milling around Oxbow Market wondering "Is this really Napa?" would have a wine tasting and buying experience to write home about right next door. Using Copia as a wine market and conference-event center is the right thing to do.

The Future of Napa - fast food and auto malls

Bill Hocker - Jan 21, 2015 11:53PM  Share #563

Commercial projects break ground on Gasser Foundation properties
Planners want a more 'Napaesque' car dealership

Another shopping mall with corny franchise buildings floating in a sea of asphalt. Another car lot. I keep wondering why the development along Soscol, the gateway to the city, has to be so strip-mallish. I bite my tongue while saying it, but why can't Napa be more like Walnut Creek. The new 'Micheal's' mall is, frankly, an instant piece of suburban blight. The Home Depot mall across the street is the archetype of franchise environmental destruction. And I have always wondered, in the 20 years I have been here, why the entry to a region of sophisticated, some might say overly taste-conscious, citizens would be a bunch of used car lots.

The answer: Peter A. Gasser.

Working on this website I learn something every day about the history of Napa that long time residents already know. But for those of us first generation residents the stories need to be retold. And one of the most important stories is laid out in great detail in the Gasser Foundation history.

I am critical on this site about the role that development (which I should begin calling 'growth' as a less loaded term) has played in diminishing the rural life that I came here to find. But growth is what America is all about, from its roots, and Peter Gasser was a prime, larger than life, exemplar of that history - perhaps even better than most in that philanthropy, boosterism and profit making seemed to be tied throughout his career, just as they are now in his legacy.

The many good works of the Gasser Foundation being acknowledged, I still look at the for-profit developments being done by the Foundation and ask, if urban development is going to happen in the city of Napa, is the best way to do it one franchise mall or car dealership after another.

I now pontificate on projects like Napa Center, Napa Pipe and Watson Ranch, because the survival of an agricultural economy, and my rural paradise on Soda Canyon Road, is not just threatened by specific projects - but by the impact of urban growth as a whole. Without greater protection than we now have on the books and more elected officials committed to that protection, urban growth will cover the vines.

I know I am being elitist, overly taste-conscious. I know that these major projects already close to fruition will not be stopped. It is sad. As a former architect, I know that the right designer can make a difference in the appropriateness of architecture for a specific place and context. The franchise design departments in Kansas city or wherever that decide what the urban fabric of Napa will look like don't care what the urban fabric of Napa looks like. I suspect that Peter Gasser would be promoting franchise malls if he were here and that these projects may be an accurate reflection of his character. But he's gone and times change. Napa should become a better city than it is becoming.

A 2007 article from the NVR: The goods on Gasser

I have just ordered this book: Napa: The Transformation of an American Town Required reading, I am guessing, for those concerned about the future of the city of Napa.

The future of the city of Napa

Bill Hocker - Jan 15, 2015 12:42PM  Share #543

Update NYTimes 2/1/17: A Waking Giant or a Monster? Developers Eye Once-Sleepy Napa

This site is about the future of the unincorporated areas of Napa County. But now that I have to peruse the Register every day to find out what new threat is being posed to our rural way of life, I can't help stumbling across municipal issues. The two are related, of course. The Napa County General Plan relegates to the municipalities the responsibility to house, and until recently to feed, the millions of tourists it is trying to attract to its wineries. With an ever increasing number of tourist event centers now being planned to occupy the vineyards, the need to accommodate tourists is the number one priority in the municipalities.

Two subjects of interest recently:

Condominium City

Napa plans study session to expand vacation rentals
Napa hosts debate on allowing more vacation rentals
Clarifying remarks on Napa vacation rentals

Has anyone considered the possibility that the entire housing stock of Napa, worth more to the city and to owners as short term rentals, might become just a collection of condos managed by a few large corporations? It gives a new meaning to bedroom community.


The Future of Napa Center

This video was just linked on the NVR. It is a very pleasant ride through the center of town, but while the video is great, the vision for the center of Napa is lousy. There is in fact no center to the town of Napa. The shopping center built in the 80's disastrously broke up the comprehensible grid of streets and the town has struggled to find itself ever since. Where is the grand rectangle of public space, like that in Sonoma or Healdsburg or San Francisco, that tells the weary traveller that they have arrived at the real center of the city?

The height and bulk of the new hotel makes us think that the the center is near. But we arrive to find only what, the maze of a shopping mall. The tallest building in a town generally tell us where the animating spirit of the population is. Tradtionally churches in most places, grain silos in farm country, skyscrapers in the profiteering capitals. In Napa it is obviously to be hotels. (Lets just hope the 10 million people don't arrive on the same day.)

The design of the new Archer Hotel also does little to connote civic grander appropriate for a town center. Think of the St. Francis on Union Square or the Biltmore on Pershing square. This hotel and the new store next to it are styled in the tacky retro 50's pastiche that is now in fashion but will just as quickly become dated nonsense. It is a style that has nothing to do with the turn-of-the-20th century spirit of the town. Although it kills me to say it, the Disneyland Riverfront project does a better job of integration. Can Napa's future not be better than this?


City of Napa Logo

A while ago I remember reading in the Register that Napa was looking for a new logo. I don't know if they found one, but if not I would like to make a proposal:

Altamura articles

Carl Bunch - Dec 8, 2014 8:41AM  Share #493

Interesting articles in the Napa Register today: The City Council is "attacking" Altamura's proposal to develop a large "wine center" at the corner of Trancas and Silverado Trail (size, traffic noise, aesthetics, etc.) and he was found to be a likely party to the "fraudulent transfer" of $500,000 to the Uptown Theater, (owned by Altamura) from BR Festivals, the organizers of BottleRock in 2013, for the purpose of shielding that money from creditors' claims in BR Festival's bankruptcy proceedings.

City begins tackling Altamura wine center projectl
Uptown must return $500,000 to BR Festivals' creditors

Emphasis on wine tourism necessary for Copia's success

Dan McFadden - Aug 17, 2014 11:13AM  Share #317

[letter-to-the-editor published in the NVR on 08/20/14]

A Register article on July 11 by Janelle Wetzstein reports on the Planning Commission review of development plans by the Copia Liquidation Trust for conversion of the Copia building to mixed use including commercial office space. Napa will lose a major economic and cultural opportunity, and a distinctive landmark building, if this development proceeds. Napa Valley has become a world center for wine, an event that Copia was originally designed to celebrate, but is still struggling to balance wine tourism with the lives of its residents and the operations of its wine producers. Both the residents of Napa County and businesses in Napa city will gain if wine tourism, and its accompanying hospitality services, are concentrated in the city and along the Highway 29 corridor, rather than spread over the rural areas of the county. Could a new Copia become the focus for this?

While Copia's previous incarnation was obviously not a viable business model, there is ample evidence that tourists will flock to facilities that provide the services they are looking for. Oxbow Market is one example, but a better example is how Beaune, at the heart of France's Burgundy region, promotes its wines. At its center is the Marche aux Vins, located in the 15th century Cordelier Church, that offers visitors the opportunity to learn about, taste, and purchase wines ranging from vin du pays to the grand 1st cru Burgundies. Organized like an exhibition of wine, with an opportunity to sample the finest products of the region, rather than as a bazaar of individual tasting rooms, the Marche effectively promotes the large and small vintners and négociants that produce these wines. It is a destination for international wine tourism, and efficient marketing tool for the region's wine producers. Readers can learn more from its website at

What an asset it would be for Napa if Copia became a new world version of Marche aux Vins, encouraging wine tourists to come to the city to taste, eat, and stay. Napa vintners and the City of Napa will be the winners if they have the vision to negotiate development of the Copia property with an exposition of wine at its center, with affiliated restaurants, shops, and wine-related enterprises.

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