[Napa County] City responds to county grand jury report on Napa Pipe, disputes claims of past obstruction

As preparations inch ahead on the Costco store, business space and hundreds of homes that will comprise the Napa Pipe development, city leaders are swatting away a grand jury report’s assertion that its resistance to the project years ago has added delays and costs now.

Replying to the report “Where’s my Costco?” published by the Napa County Grand Jury June 28, Napa city officials denied getting in the way of Napa Pipe since its proposal in 2007. Instead, staff argued their oversight of the planned mixed-use development – which would create a new community on 154 acres of the former Kaiser industrial site in south Napa – helped shape it into a form that will not put crushing traffic or environmental strains on the city.

Questions posed by the city’s planners and elected leaders helped reshape Napa Pipe’s scope from the originally proposed 3,200 housing units – more than in the whole of St. Helena – to a more manageable 945 dwellings, according to the reply letter, which the City Council approved last week.

“The City of Napa takes exception to the many opinions expressed in the report about the City’s involvement throughout the project evaluation process as a delay tactic,” city officials said in their response letter, which is required to be sent within 90 days after the release of a grand jury report.

“The City had legitimate land use policy and environmental concerns about the Napa Pipe project and as such, registered those comments through the normal course of the California Environmental Quality Act requirements and normal development review activities. Specifically, until a project alternative could be supported that addressed the City’s concerns, the significant scope of the project required the City to register its ongoing concerns about impacts to traffic and transportation, water supply, and police/fire services.”

Napa city officials called the grand jury’s assertion of longstanding resistance misleading, saying their concerns centered on the sheer size of the development as proposed more than a decade ago. Early versions of Napa Pipe would have included housing for about 6,500 people, many of them living in apartment buildings six to eight floors tall – a density level that triggered hard questions about the impacts on water use, the school system and housing costs, officials said in their reply letter.

“Everyone had a different perception of how it was working and what was happening,” Mayor Jill Techel, the last remaining council member from the time of Napa Pipe’s unveiling, said Tuesday. “For us, it was: ‘They’re going to build a city on the edge of the city of Napa that’s twice as big as Yountville,’ and there was a lot of concern: Was that smart growth? Was that the right way to grow?”

Negotiations involving the city, county and developer resulted in Napa County’s 2014 approval of a scaled-down housing development, along a retirement home, warehouse store, a 150-room hotel, retail and office space, and a park-and-trail system.

City leaders also pushed back on the grand jury’s finding that only popular support for a Costco store induced city leaders to work more closely with the county to advance Napa Pipe. More important to the city, according to officials, was the chance to boost a scarce housing supply and reuse a dormant industrial property, and to prevent the sprawl of development into surrounding farmlands.

City-county partnership is on the verge of going a step further, as the two governments are seeking to move up the annexation of Napa Pipe’s remaining 43 acres of county-held land into the city by year’s end rather than the original 2022 date. The city of Napa previously absorbed 111 acres of unincorporated land in 2016.

The early-annexation move awaits Gov. Gavin Newsom’s signing of Senate Bill 235, which has cleared both houses of the California Legislature and will let Napa County claim credit for meeting its regional housing requirements with new construction at Napa Pipe even after all of its lands pass to city control.

Annexation could then take place in the late fall or winter, with the first city building permits issued as soon as the spring or summer of 2020, according to Vin Smith, community development director.

September 23, 2019

Napa Valley Register

By Howard Yune

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