Wednesday, March 18, 2009

"A hotel summit and the essence of the valley"

Published in the Napa Valley Register,Tuesday, March 31, 2009
By John Olney

Let me see if I understand the honorable Supervisor Wagenknecht and the people, or not.We have no moratorium on the following encouraging visitors/tourists and locals to come to their facilities:

• The number of ag acres that can be planted or replanted for wine-growing. The same applies to wineries that process those grapes.

• The number of restaurants, office buildings or retail stores that can be built or refurbished for commercial business.

The number of tourism-related services, i.e., travel agencies, tour guides, wedding planners, limos, etc., that can open for business.

We cannot stop the following from marketing, promoting and advertising Napa Valley:

Existing in-county: county/city government Web sites, chambers of commerce, 500-plus wineries (and trade associations), 100-plus lodging facilities (and trade associations), bus/limo/train companies, spas/restaurants/lounges, outlet stores, golf courses, etc. All of these enterprises are dependent on each other for their mutual economic survival.

Existing worldwide: travel agencies, bus/limo companies, hotel, restaurant and retail chains, large conglomerates that own wineries in Napa Valley.

On March 15, in a Register article titled “Supervisor questions new hotels,” Jillian Jones wrote: “Napa is a retreat for hundreds of thousands of people each year ... People flock from all over for a taste of Napa’s wine ... But with them come ... the prospect of a new crop of hotels appearing on the skyline ... Wagenknecht fears that Napa Valley is about to lose the very qualities that draw tourists here in the first place. ‘I think the very essence of our valley is at stake,’ Wagenknecht said.”

“Wagenknecht ... announced that he will call for a countywide summit on hotel development to ensure that the cities and county of Napa work together to prevent one too many hotels from going in — or from going in the wrong places."

Whether Napa County and its cities want to allow hotel development does not change the fact that without any more lodging facilities, hundreds of thousands of people each year will still be coming to Napa County but they will only be day visitors. The traffic damage is already done. They drove in and back out on the same day. By becoming overnight visitors, they would count as only one hit on the day they arrived and only one on the day they departed, instead of two traffic trip hits on the same day.

Wagenknecht went on: “Even just one town approving just one hotel creates traffic and the impacts are felt throughout the valley.”

The same is true when the county allows a large winery to be built like “the castle.” Obviously its owner knew, from a marketing and promotions standpoint, such architecture and its size would attract visitors — also known as customers — traveling the length of the valley to reach the castle. These visitors do not travel or wander around in our residential neighborhoods disturbing our at-home peace!

I have absolutely no objections to what Mr. Sattui is promoting as a platform to sell his wines. Good luck to him. My only objection is that some elected officials are only considering housing developments and lodging facilities as a traffic dilemma and ignoring vineyard, winery, recreational facilities, office or retail building projects as traffic-generating burdens.

Wagenknecht went on to say: “While hotels can be an important source of revenue for government and local businesses, taken too far, we risk becoming a typical tourist trap filled with summer throngs and T-shirt shops. In effect, we risk becoming a community of tourists rather than a community of residents.”

I’ve resided in five locations, worked two golf courses, three wineries and one restaurant. Never were residential or work streets overflowing (i.e., thronged) with tourists buying T-shirts and trinkets unless it was a fully supported county/city event, i.e. parade, farmers market, festival, wine auction, etc., with special limited-time permits. The county winery ordinance stopped the propagation of T-shirts and trinket shops in Ag Preserve lands, which restricts such shops to the city limits (and their respective resident/government jurisdiction).

So, what do we do? Well, I think Supervisor Wagenknecht may have said more than he really understands with his call for a “countywide summit on hotel development” when he told the Register, “I think the very essence of our valley is at stake.” None of us really know what the “essence” of our county, valley or cities is and therefore we cannot undertake what the supervisor suggests until we clearly understand the question: “What makes Napa County, valley, cities what they are? That is to say, what is their essence?”

(Olney lives in Napa.)

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