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Napa Pipe Comment for January 14 meeting of the Board of Supervisors

My comments pertaining to the Napa Pipe decision and what I see as the most difficult growth issues heading into the future.


Stepping back from all that has been said so far and looking at this from another angle, the bottom line underneath all the difference of opinion is that it is about growth, and how much growth is too much growth in Napa.

What this decision about Napa Pipe really comes down to is our first big step to turn Napa into a higher growth community, just like everywhere else, and I believe that people sense that and that is why there is so much resistance to it.

If Napa Pipe gets approved in the form that is on the table, 700 plus 245 housing units plus a Costco, it will be one of the largest single development projects in Napa history.

I prefer that the site stay industrial as much as possible, possibly allowing for the 20 acres of housing for the housing plan.

I do not believe if the site stays industrial it will create just as much traffic as the above plan. If the site stays industrial it will take years if ever to achieve the 2 million sq ft of space that the traffic comparison is based on. It will also be the slow growth that Napa's culture has always called for.

Some people seem to be forgetting why we are even a slow growth county. Farming is the reason, and development kills farming, and the more we develop the bigger the threat becomes.

Traffic is a problem because eventually traffic jams could and in fact will undermine the ag preserve. How? We are about to turn Napa into a tourist based economy rather than farming, as evidenced by the easily 2,000
hotel rooms in some stage of planning or already approved, plus yet another 150 hotel rooms proposed at Napa Pipe. We have already doubled the number of hotel rooms in the past 4-5 years, and traffic has risen correspondingly.

No one has said much about those hotels, but they are a real growth inducer, will require a lot of employees compared to an industrial use, have much greater needs for affordable housing and create more traffic than industrial
due to the large number of employees needed in a hotel who have low wages. They will have to drive in.

If we hold out for industrial jobs they will come more slowly and will pay better when we get them. That is much better for Napa, there is no good reason for the community to now convert any industrial land over to housing. We should maintain the slow steady housing growth taking place inside city limits.

The NCTPA has already said that the future holds constant congestion on Hwy 29, that's fifteen hours a day, seven days a week, service level F. That is already coming. If we keep up the tourism and all the hotel rooms, we are going to get the same on Silverado Trail. It is probably ten years or more out, but ten years will pass.

If the hotels located in the south county around the city of Napa cannot get their tourists up valley to the wineries in a reasonable amount of time, if it starts taking two hours to get from the Meritage Hotel to the Mondavi winery in Oakville, then we will have a huge problem on our hands. And right now we are on a path to make that happen.

If you don't think that is realistic, all you have to do is look at what happens in other cities with this kind of growth. My brother lives in Walnut Creek and it takes him 20 minutes to go one mile on his morning commute, just to get on the freeway. Of course we will see those kinds of traffic times.

What could then happen is that the corporations and hedge funds that own more and more of the hotel and winery assets in Napa will demand that we widen the roads, because they will be losing money. If the locals won't do it they will go over our heads to the state or federal government. By then the locals will be so sick of sitting in traffic they may well support it. When that happens the ag preserve is over.

So traffic does matter, a lot.

Margins at wineries are low. Since the mid 90's wineries and vineyards have been purchased at prices where it is nearly impossible to make money, even at $100 a bottle for wine.

That puts the whole county in a vulnerable position. It is highly likely that they are going to try to make up that loss by volume, evermore tourists as customers, and with ever more profitable events at the wineries. At the same time, we are approving new wineries rapidly, so the number of tourists needed for all these wineries is constantly increasing.

There is going to be a concerted effort to undermine the winery definition ordinance, it is already happening I believe, and sales are still considered soft right now by many even though visitor numbers are through the roof. If traffic is so bad that they can't get people there, they will force us to widen the roads, because they will not just lose money and sit idly by.

And we do not have the land available to widen roads here without bulldozing farmland.

I believe that we are at the beginning of a long term effort to dramatically increase growth. The problem is that it will quickly undermine the very basis of all that wealth, the farms.

If there were some long term plan to manage the growth and the residential development at Napa Pipe were a part of that plan I would welcome it. What bothers me is that there is no overall planning. Each jurisdiction is building whatever hotel rooms it wants without regard to future impact. The downtown Napa developers have said they want another 1,000 hotel
rooms downtown--have they planned for the traffic and affordable housing needs that will generate when they say that? I doubt it.

In terms of the Costco, that is the last thing we need in Napa with our limited land available and limited infrastructure. It would mostly be repetitive of some other businesses already here, like Wal Mart, tire stores, the wine shops, etc will all take a dramatic hit in sales.

I understand why people like the idea of a Costco, but it is only fifteen minutes to Fairfield. It is worth it to maintain as much of the small town ease in getting around as we can. I do not think that those who support it really understand that it is not so much about the Costco, but where does it stop? Why not a Sports Authority, a Nordstroms, Lowe's, Best Buy, etc, etc. In order to maintain a small town atmosphere you cannot just build, build,
build.

As a second alternative, I would support the plan originally supported by county planning staff, the housing without the Costco. Napa need housing way more than yet another big box store. And most of all, do not approve yet another hotel there.

Having said that, I am opposed to the current plan for Napa Pipe. Napa will be far better off over the long term to keep that property industrial.

Whatever happens on January 14 we need an active joining of all the local governments in Napa to come up with some reasonable plans that we can do together to manage growth. I fear we are heading to some serious problems.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Catherine George January 14, 2013 at 07:51 AM
Michael - thank you so much for your posting; you make very clear, well reasoned points. Thanks also Duane for your comments. I'm really hoping the community comes out again in force to tomorrow's hearing. I'll be there. We need to preserve our beautiful valley and to ensure that the intent of the ag preserve is honored.
Scott Yeager January 14, 2013 at 05:36 PM
It's very simple. If you build too much you will lose the appeal that brings people here in the first place. With all the empty retail space already in town and the new space being built the only way to make it all work is to build more hotels and bring in more day tourists. The added traffic from all those people is going to be a big problem. You have a two lane road that is going to be filled with more and more cars that are carrying 1-2 passengers most of the time. You really can't widen them. You are going to have to get people out of their cars. How?
Catherine George January 14, 2013 at 06:08 PM
Use the wine train tracks to add more trains / train cars that will be used by more people; ie, add regular trains and charge a commuter fare. Have regular travel service up the valley for $3 or $5 a trip or whatever makes sense. Set up super clear and super easy access in Napa for people to board the train and go up valley. Set up commuter deals such as monthly and weekly passes at a discout, so people who need to go up or down valley have an alternative to driving hwy 29. Have the train make more stops so that people can get off at wineries and towns along the way, and get back on, and have a grand time without having to drive. Add another track each way if needed. This would be so much better than widening the road because it would encourage more public transit, help reduce emissions, and so on. Connect the train to BART so that people can come to the valley more easily without having to drive and clog up the roads.
John L. Poole January 14, 2013 at 06:13 PM
Michael, Your comments differ with the Editorial that appeared in the Napa Register yesterday, Sunday. Could you identify who are the decision makers at the Register for the Editorials. Were you involved? Were you out-voted? Given that you have expressed an opinion that varies with the Editorial, it would be informative to learn what your role on The Register is.
Michael Haley January 14, 2013 at 06:19 PM
The best solution is to put as much as you can downtown, and make downtown a walkable tourist spot. Then you try to get the tourists on bus tours upvalley. We are still going to have more traffic but that is at least the most feasible way to do it. Adding housing downtown for workers would have even more impact, if people could walk to work. It is a tall order but we can at least do some of it, work toward it. That is why they built the NCTPA building where they did, to put some apartment type neighborhoods in there so people who work in town can take a quick bus trip to work. The biggest wrinkle on that is that the kind of tourists we want are wealthy,people who can drop $5000 on one visit to a winery. Those people are not going to sit on a bus with a bunch of yahoos from Topeka. They can go anywhere in the world and drink the best wine. A lot of them have already given up on Napa already, even though that is the kind of tourist that our general plan calls for. To make up for it the wineries will start to solicit less wealthy tourists and more of them. That's my prediction.
Michael Haley January 14, 2013 at 07:11 PM
We don’t always agree, but we don’t really vote either, we reach a consensus that we all can live with, and everyone’s thoughts and opinions are included somewhere, as were mine. We are all also free to have our own individual opinions, as is the case here. My role is that I am one of three community members on the editorial board.
Jeff Page January 14, 2013 at 07:49 PM
What is missing here in Napa county? Is it willpower and backbone at the Board of supervisors and city council level, or laws that aren't explicit enough to stop the hotels and wineries? Michael's view rings true on the traffic issues. More hotel rooms and more winery activities equals more traffic, but it also equals more low income housing for all those low level jobs serving and cleaning. Write the development requirements so that they pay the full cost of extra school,police,fire required to service it. Maybe a two county wide plan to split tourist business to send large wedding/corp functions to sister facilities to Sonoma makes sense. Keep Napa for super exclusive small tastings. Napa should be about wine growing, not weddings. A second, parallel rail line and the bike path makes more sense than a wider road. Have a quick short hop luxury rail service on the second line, and have those high rollers picked up by a Range Rover for their upvalley winery visits.
Scott Yeager January 14, 2013 at 07:59 PM
Michael - I agree. I just didn't want to spell it out. It's actually the only way to do it. I have been to a few wineries in my time and have seen people spend a good amount of money but the backbone of tourism in Napa is supposed to be people who can spend $5,000 at a winery? How realistic is that?
Michael Haley January 14, 2013 at 08:06 PM
Scott, it is realistic, we get a lot of people who do that, you just don't see them out front in the public tasting rooms. But it was felt from the beginning that that is the market we should cater to, because we are such a small geograhic area and because we sell such expensive wine. It would work but now we have tourist fever.
Catherine George January 14, 2013 at 08:41 PM
Michael - your comment "A lot of them have already given up on Napa already", referring to the higher income tourists... how do you know they have, and why do you think they have given up on Napa?
Napa Citizen January 14, 2013 at 08:47 PM
NAPA COUNTY SUPERVISORS: Please end this nonsense once and for all! Give them the FINAL "NO" on Napa Pipe. We're watching. I would even run against Mr. Dodd should he vote for this project to proceed. Its negative impacts far outweigh any benefits to our community! No amount of tax revenue or payments for "mitigation" will ever be able to undo the impacts of this project. STOP NOW. Give Mr. Rogal and his friends the final "NO". I'm sick today but considering going to the Opera House just for the opportunity to cough in Rogal's direction.
Catherine George January 14, 2013 at 08:52 PM
Napa Citizen - thank you for that! Please come and cough!!! I'll cough right along with you. I'm having fantasies of bursting out in song to rouse the crowd (yes, I saw Les Miserables recently)!
Scott Yeager January 15, 2013 at 12:23 AM
I get the idea of customers with "discriminating" taste, businesses catering to them, and what that euphemism means. I worked in retail a long time, although not in the "discriminating" taste end, but I do have a friend who does work in that kind of business. Let's put it this way, since 2008 there are much fewer 80k and above customers and a lot more 20-30k customers. It's been a big shift. From what I have heard from people working at wineries - the high end people are still buying like they did but the middle has dropped quite a bit in their purchasing. The genie is out of the bottle. This place is marketed as a weekend getaway for Northern California and a destination for the rest of the U.S. and the world.
Michael Haley January 15, 2013 at 04:48 AM
Well everyone, Napa Pipe moved a big step closer to getting approved in its current form tonight, 945 residential units plus a Costco. There are a lot of ifs ands or buts but my sense is that it is all over but the shouting. Rogal has pulled it off. I will post more tomorrow to respond to Jeff and Scott, but just wanted to let you know about that. The upshot is that the only supervisor voting for only the 20 acres is Luce. Wagenknecht wants to turn the whole thing over to the city for them to do whatever they want, and the other three all support the current plan. Dillon is opposed to adding the hotel. All are against groundwater which means the city must provide water, so if Rogal gets Napa to provide water it is a done deal. More or less, lots of details but again, my sense is that it is going to happen.
Louisa Hufstader (Editor) January 15, 2013 at 04:54 AM
Coordinated coughing in other people's faces is okay, but the senior citizens who spoke in favor of the project were "grey-haired yahoos"? I'm disappointed to read these ill-tempered-sounding comments.
Catherine George January 15, 2013 at 05:17 AM
Louisa - I wasn't serious about the coughing comment but I can delete if you feel it was not appropriate. In regards to the "yahoos" comment; it really was that bad, at least, where I was sitting it was. There were a number of older people, definitely retired, who kept making extremely rude, disrespectful, immature comments. It was over-the-top name-calling and nasty. I think I am accurately describing what I experienced, and I have people who will back me up on this, who were sitting near me and had the same experience as I did, I'm sorry to say.
Louisa Hufstader (Editor) January 15, 2013 at 05:26 AM
Catherine, I am very sorry to hear about the disrespectful behavior - I was in the balcony and could not hear the undertones. I'm really looking forward to our reporter's account of events: She was right down front.
MICHAEL P WILSON "Independent Kid" January 15, 2013 at 05:33 AM
Im for progress. I think the project is just what we need to grow our County. This will be one of the better projects,We will see this 10 years down the road.
Alex Shantz January 15, 2013 at 07:55 AM
I was sitting a row in front of Catherine. We were surrounded by these rude individuals. There was one guy in particular that was sitting behind me in the same row as Catherine that was very over the top rude. I can vouch for what she is saying.
Michael Haley January 15, 2013 at 08:39 AM
Because I know some of them and they won't come any more--too much traffic. Perhaps others have taken those people's places but when you hear that enough--I mean one other California county that is a vineyard region used "napa without the traffic" as their sales pitch--you get the message.
Michael Haley January 15, 2013 at 08:46 AM
There's a lot of anger, people are frustrated. What surprised me was how many of the pro Napa Pipe supporters praised Keith Rogal personally, he's a visionary, has put up with so much, he's willing to take a blighted site and turn it around for the community, they sounded like acolytes of Rogal more than supporters of the project. I mean, he is going to make a lot of money doing all that, I suspect that is his true motivation. It was kind of a weird energy, like followers of a guru or something. But with that kind of savior of Napa energy running behind their support for the project, it is no wonder that they are angry at those who oppose it. It has gotten very personal for some of them it appears.
Michael Haley January 15, 2013 at 08:47 AM
We will remember we heard it here first, I hope you are correct.
Michael Haley January 15, 2013 at 08:34 PM
Jeff, I have been thinking about your question, and it is kind of complicated. We are in a context where the main thing that matters is the economy, all the main arguments that people take seriously are economic. The government and the chamber of commerce and other business interests are one. The only credible support for the ag preserve is economic--you can't just say you want to preserve the beauty, you have to add that it will be good for tourism or you won't be taken seriously. Also people think that the government will make sure things are taken care of more or less, make sure there that if things get built it will more or less work well. I said that to a county supervisor in a meeting a couple weeks ago, that people tell me that, and he just started laughing out loud and couldn't believe that people actually think that. The supervisors can feel as trapped in their role as anyone else, bigger forces like free market capitalism move everything and you can only resist. Also fewer and fewer people in the community are getting involved recently, everyone is excited about all the new developments and hotels and restaurants, people want growth and few are really talking about the downsides. Even the Sierra Club wants growth, just up instead of out, that is one of the things Dillon said last night. That is the beginning of an answer, and maybe I am wrong, maybe we can have all this growth and it will be fine. I dunno.
Michael Haley January 15, 2013 at 08:37 PM
Scott, Catherine, I got an email from a friend of mine that works in a tasting room and he says the high rollers are still coming in, so maybe I am wrong about that. He said they just come in limos so they don't worry about the traffic. I wonder though when the roads get congested enough if sitting in a limo will be a problem.
MICHAEL P WILSON "Independent Kid" January 15, 2013 at 08:48 PM
We should not forget the grape growers and winerys, make big bucks off there land. At the same time. The wine industry invites clogged roads and low worker pay.
Michael Haley January 15, 2013 at 11:54 PM
Are they making big bucks? Only those who owned land prior to about 1996 are making big bucks, in general. Land is too expensive in Napa now, and bottle prices are down and probably will stay down for a long time, until we reach new market conditions. A lot of the reason people and big investors buy assets here is either for long term appreciation or, frankly, the ego stroke of owning a piece of Napa Valley. If that ego boost factor goes away you are going to see a bubble burst. But yes, those who owned before 96 or so are making a lot of money, Krug, Trinchero, Mondavi, a lot of the big ones, but even for them they have to really mind their business. I would love to see more transparency about this because it affects all of us and our future. On the low wage part, I agree with you, but that is the nature of the business. We pay more and have better benefits than other wine regions but if we started paying too much more we'd go bust. We can't raise bottle prices, and in fact retailers like Costco are pushing prices down even more.
MICHAEL P WILSON "Independent Kid" January 16, 2013 at 12:17 AM
Michael Thanks for the insight. Are most winerys still selling to Costco,Sams at 50% of retail or has it gone lower?
Scott Yeager January 16, 2013 at 12:33 AM
After you have seen these developers at work you know the routine and you have no illusions about them at all. I wrote this on December 12th about Napa Pipe: "Developers care about one thing only. Making as much money as possible. I know they give lip service to other values but they always want to put too many houses into too small a space. What they think of as "beautiful" is not what most people think of as the same thing. They think golf courses are more beautiful than what existed there before. They always claim that their "vision" is appropriate for the area and that their development will not overly impact neither the environment or the citizens who live near their lovely development. It's like deja vu all over again."
Michael Haley January 16, 2013 at 02:17 AM
Scott, I agree with you about the developers, but in a way that is their job and it is up to the rest of us to reign them in to appropriate levels. What scares me is that most of the population isn't paying attention here like they used to. What also is true is that as people we have totally turned our civic life over to economics. People believe that if it makes money, that is what matters. Loss of beauty, loss of environment? Lower quality of life? Yeah yeah yeah. There is nothing inherently wrong with a Costco, it is just that it seems like once we allow one thing then the barrier breaks and we can build outside the RUL and put neighborhoods on the fringe and how long before another one of these comes up? There is no overall planning, and the citizens here seem disengaged more than ever. If we are going to just be another Santa Rosa or Walnut Creek with a lot of shopping, overbuilt everything, and constant traffic jams, I just want Napans to choose that consciously, to know that the policies their government is adopting is going to lead to that. I don't think people realize that is where we are going. Local governments know that is where we are going but they aren't really announcing it.
Michael Haley January 16, 2013 at 05:41 AM
Michael, that I don't know, I know I bought some Heintz cab there at $20 a bottle and I have never seen it for less than $40, but it didn't taste so good. I think the wineries know what their least quality barrels are and they dump them at places like Costco. They send their best stuff to restaurants and their tasting rooms, because that is where people get hooked to a brand. That is mostly just an opinion, but I have had a few people (at wineries) verify that too.

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