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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.

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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