Friday, June 12, 2009

Redevelopment and Growth for Napa County

Questions About the Future

By John M. Olney
Copyright May 3, 2009, All rights reserved by Wine Country Marketing and Promotions,
1370 Trancas St., #409, Napa, CA 94558 Phone: 707-299-9548
Web site: E-mail:


The Napa County residents and their governmental representatives struggle with the definition of their “Essence.” They are wondering what the common thread is that they can count on to draw up a plan by where to allow newcomer and employee housing, visitor lodging, wineries and their tasting rooms, retail shops, restaurants, offices, recreational facilities and all the other requirements and desires of a community.

So, how does one search down the “Essence “ of Napa County, Valley and its cities and Communities?

1st - We must be careful not to confuse the “Essence “ of the county with what attracts tourism to the area which is overwhelming dominated by the word, “Wine,” with all it’s associated glitter, charm and enviable “style of life.”

Our beautiful surroundings and relatively quiet, laid back living by being located off the beaten tracks (Hwy 80, and Hwy 101), gives the perception of a Fairy Land lifestyle. This somewhat isolated existence far from the fast paced whirl of traffic hustling to and from big cities and bedroom communities, does make others envious and desirous to capture a bit of our lifestyle even it is for only for a day or magnificent weekend.

Although “…hundreds of thousands of people each year…” come into the county -- as reported by NVR writer Jillian Jones in a recent article about future lodging development -- they are nevertheless, by a vast majority, only daytime visitors, and thus the “local communities” they do not make. They, nor their sought after wine, are therefore not what constitutes the essence of the county and its micro elements. Rather, they are simply the economic resource upon which the micro elements of the community ultimately feed.

2nd - So, we know that the micro communities with our Wine Country, view tourism as a necessary evil, they nevertheless endure the industry because of the chase after the dollar; also known as Napa’s economic savior.

In the micro view the tourist is blamed for changing “our style of life,” or put another way, “shoving the past - the old way - aside.” Yet, I defy those who decry the existence of tourism to show all of us how the tourist has changed any of the following:

1. The traffic pattern, by “cruising” on the local residential streets, away from the wineries, restaurants, shops, etc., where the kid’s still play hide-n-seek, baseball, football, etc., while parents sit on porches or front yards and lawn chairs deciding the fate of the world while the BBQ is smoking away.

Or, are out there keeping us from accessing the roads to and from work during the early morning and evening
as we depart our homes or jobs and join the commuter traffic.
Most wineries don’t open for retail business until about 10 am which is well after the morning commute rush.

Most winery patrons are back at lodging facilities cleaning up for dinner reservations or have left town in the opposite flow of our locals commuting from work back to their homes in Napa County in the late afternoon

.2. The type of food product available at the neighborhood market or the supermarket chains.

3. The membership composition of the local boy/girls clubs, social/fraternal organizations, chambers of commerce, churches, and other local community serving organizations.

4. Cause our local parks to be so full that citizens of each of our communities can no longer use the facilities for which they are paying.

5. Crowd our schools with children possessing strange thoughts that could influence our local kids.

6. Come to protest along the sides of our local streets and highways against Ag Preservation and land trust set-asides.

7. Fill our Board of Supervisor and City Council meeting rooms to sway the vote of the elected officials over the inputs of the locals.

No, indeed, it is, and always has been, the “Developer” - whether homes, winery, office, retail store, etc. - who pits local against local,sending out the flyers, making telephone calls soliciting support, etc. for whatever the interest is of the special group or developer to get his/her project implemented. And,this should not be construed as a negative statement about “developers,” for indeed, without them there would be few tract homes to house the local resident job holders working in the stores, offices, wineries, industrial warehouses, etc. located in the county and also built by those “developers" AKA "risk takers!”

3rd - I believe that one can actually find the essence of each of the cities of AMCAN, Napa, Yountville, St. Helena, Calistoga and the community of Angwin if one is looking at only the inherent elements within each of respective communities on a separate entity basis.

Some Background on Napa County Communities

The socio-economic differences within the county

The needs and wants of the county’s southern most city of American Canyon are somewhat similar to those of its surrounding neighbors of Vallejo and Napa but all three differ hugely from those of the other cities/communities of the county - Yountville, St. Helena and Calistoga, and the Community of Angwin.

The Southern Napa Communities

County VS City
We often witness the County officials facing off with the officials of American Canyon and Napa over commercial lodging and residential housing development within the airport area and other light industrial and agricultural lands in the southern Napa County area. The recent “St. Regis versus Napa Pipe debate” is just one recent example of this battle.

City VS City
Both cities seek new office and lodging facilities and some have opened in both cities with more to come on-line in the near future.

Napa already suffers from an abundance of office/retail space vacancies spread among both old and new buildings.

American Canyon suffers a very high residential housing foreclosure rate. AMCAN also suffers from massive commute time traffic delays and as one of the primary corridors for north/south traffic in/out of the county thus backing up traffic north of the Southern Crossing and the Napa-Vallejo/Hwy 121 corridor as well as congesting the other major ingress/egress routes of Napa - Hwy 12/121, going west, and Jamison Canyon/Hwy 12 going east)

Within the City of Napa
A perception, at least on the part of this observer, is the "protectionist” attitude, and indeed persuasive powers of many downtown merchants to ensure that business is developed for the central core of Napa and is accomplished only as they want it no matter what others might want to do.

This was particularly obvious when the Napa Valley Wine Train sought its permits to locate its central start/stop train load/unload site along the small triangle of land through which their track ran in front of the Marriot lodge near the intersection of Redwood Road and the Hwy 29 frontage road of Solano. They saw the condition of the “scenic view” while transiting from the 8th Street depot through the light industrial blocks then the rundown neighborhoods before crossing Hwy 29 and the land patch in front of the Marriot.

Within the City of American Canyon
It struggles trying to find an identy in a County that consumer tourist are driven by wine but this city has few oppotunities to maximize on that trade unless it builds affordable housing for the potential workforce and inexpensive lodging for the tourist.
The Northern Napa Communities

Yountville: It wrestles with questions about how to pack in another restaurant or apartment building/lodging facility inside its limited borders. And , believe it or not, businesses located north of about the site of “The French Laundry” do not fair as well as those to the south. I have not yet figured out why this happens!

St. Helena: The forefathers continually argue against expansion. It denied expansion at a supermarket which supplies food products to its residents.

It refuses to consider how to route vehicular traffic in and around the town roads and yet packs in tourists to the cadre of wineries surrounding the city.

Indeed, a few years back they even fought the opening of an ice crème shop in the downtown area because it was believed it would attract too many tourist. Apparently they do not think that locals also like to go out for an ice crème!

Meanwhile, they have not stopped new/expanded wineries from their area which definitely attract tourist traffic whether open for drop in or by appointment only.

Only recently have the residents and town officials started thinking that just maybe the “Napa Valley Wine Train” is not the most awful demon they have hated for so many years, and are trying to establish discussions about letting passengers detrain in the city.

Angwin: The arguments focus on whether or not wine, beer and spirit drinking, meat eating owners/workers associated to local wineries and other businesses can co-exist among a community of prohibitionists and vegetarians.

Calistoga: This is just a sleepily town awaiting tourists to find and enjoy its healing waters while rarely complaining about anything that happens down valley. They would be happy if the Wine Train came to their town.

All these northern communities struggle to determine whether they are a tourist center or a local community and what existing and additional controls are needed to slow growth or preserve “their way of life.”

The Real Redevelopment Problem

While the north county develops more and more vineyards and wineries, they will not allow new or expanded roads to handle increased traffic or build lodging facilities for transient visitors or “affordable” housing for employees needed to plow the fields, pick the grapes and prune the vines, produce and serve the wine or mow the lawns of and clean the mansions of the winery/vineyard owners.

Consequently, the south county is regulated to allowing the office buildings to contain the supporting infrastructure of warehousing product, financing, insuring and generally supplying the administrative needs of the wine production industry. It also recognizes the economic viability of housing those workers earning enough to afford Napa County housing, as well as providing lodging to the visitors as transient guests spend money on the amenities of typical travel vacations/overnight visits to Wine Country.

The problem with developing a common threat among these various communities is when one attempts to combine all the widely different economic, social and governmental micro elements of the county in attempt to define a common goal.

Better yet, perhaps we should not try too hard to make a common thread exist! Maybe we should develop a Napa County Compromise Plan” wherein we acknowledge the differences among the various geo-political and economic zones of our county and cooperatively develop the particular attributes of each respective area to improve and benefit the whole.

I am suggesting we divide up the economic pie of what wine brings to the county and assist each other in marketing not only our own piece but that of the other areas too.

My article, “Hotel Summit and Essence of the Valley,”
( ) was written in response to Napa County Supervisor, Brad Wagenknecht, who, on March 15, 2009, was published in the Napa Valley Register (NVR), in an article by Jillian Jones, titled “Supervisor questions new hotels - Wagenknecht wants valley to take a long look at lodging.” Jones wrote:

“….Napa is a retreat for hundreds of thousands of people each year, a hideaway in a turbulent world. People flock from all over for a taste of Napa’s wine and a moment of its quiet.

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.

“We’ve all been in towns where the tourists become the tail that wagged the dog,” he said.
Wagenknecht, in a newsletter to constituents, 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.”

First of all, I do not quite understand the Jillian Jones comment about how visitors bring “… a new crop of hotels appearing on the skyline.” There has been only two new hotels (Napa River Inn and the Avia Boutique Inn) built in the core Napa area in the past few years and one of those is still under construction and yet to open. The other new hotels (Napa River Terrace and Westin) are across Soscol, in/near the Napa River Oxbow redevelopment area and cannot quite be construed as being in the true “Downtown” core shopping area.

However, there have been four new structures opened or under construction in the last about one year that are office/retail and/or mixed uses.

Why are all of these new structures in the boundaries of Napa City? The primary reason that tourist are at the hotels of the city of Napa and new “high rise” office/retail buildings are in Napa is because such structures cannot be built in the agricultural preservation land and because the other larger communities to the north of Napa denied them access within their city limits. AMCAN offers no arts, etc. or other amenities and is not as attractive to a high-end building developer as is the city of Napa. Nevertheless, hotel and office development is defaulted to the economic benefit of the cities of American Canyon and Napa, if they are clever enough to recognize this fact.

My article calls for the locals and the planning officials to look at ALL future building types to be allowed and not just hotels as Supervisor Brad Wagenknecht is proposing. The supervisor stressed traffic caused by hotels. Instead of blaming hotels one should applaud then because they spread out traffic. They decrease day visit only traffic loads which is two trips a day instead of an entry trip one day and an exit another day. In essence, hotels are a form of staggered traffic flow. They are also a boon to dollars spent in the local economy.

In my article of January 2, 2009, “A magnificent Emporium From COPIA Ashes,”
( ) which was titled not me but by the Napa Valley Register (NVR), describes my opinion that the Napa River Oxbow Redevelopment area on the east side of Soscol is the “Park Place and Boardwalk” area of Napa. It already contains elements of high end lodging, dining and to a limited extent shopping (Oxbow Public Market), plus the attraction of the railroad train passenger depot, all of which are primarily of interest to visitors of the county whether a friend of a resident, a business traveler or a tourist. Oh yes, some more affluent residents also use the facilities that are available.

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