How Napa Could Leave the Pandemic

Napa County has been an exceptional Bay Area success in this pandemic war. While among the lowest testing and deaths rates, Napa is nowhere near exiting this chaotic time as the economic toll deepens. Napa is very dependent on a few but profitable industries: hospitality, restaurants and above all, wine. The tight shelter-in-place restrictions has taken a big hit on our basic income workforce as well as the working poor. The wineries and hotels may comeback, but how will those just hanging-on survive? How will Napa emerge in this new world?

This could be a time for distraction, introspection, putting our heads in the sand, or it could be the time for big ideas about improving the County after the pandemic. Rather than retreating, we should be embracing long-term projects that will create jobs and improve all of our future. Napa has been among the most progressive in supporting clean energy, minimizing carbon-oriented farming and we should be able to look inside our ranks for new horizons. 

Affordable housing. We all know providing good affordable housing for those who will work our vineyards, clean our hotels, and prepare our food is essential but is not currently addressed. This could be the opportunity to put people to work building new apartments and affordable condominiums. Our commercial buildings and shopping centers will need to be repurposed as living spaces. Our downtown areas are ripe for mixed-use development. However, to build more housing, we must improve our infrastructure.

Infrastructure Reconstruction. This could be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Napa to commit to building a better tomorrow with our infrastructure. While talks of rebuilding on a Federal and State level has gone on for years, little funding has precipitated. Our sanitary systems are in dire shape, our water supply is ancient, held together with Band-Aids. They are vulnerable to disaster and in desperate need of repair. 

We need to rebuild our power grid, and not wait for PG&E. It may be years before it recovers from bankruptcy and the huge damage payouts. In 2017, Napa lost 600 homes and killed 7 people, after 3 years, now is the time to take the upper hand and become more independent. Just this week, 2,000 Napa customers lost power and PG&E has yet to figure out why.

Rebuild our Healthcare infrastructure: So far Napa has been extremely lucky to escape the worst of the pandemic. At the same time, we all see potential shortfalls that could ravish this County with our antiquated primary care facilities. We escaped the worst but it won’t be the last. Primary care practices are disappearing and with the current escalating unemployment, more families will lose insurance and connectivity with healthcare.

As Napa emerges, it will take insightful leaders with long-range visions, beyond wine, hospitality, and food. It will take money and resources but for many Napans teetering on economic disaster, we have to think big.

After the fires ravished Sonoma, “Sonoma Strong!” signs were everywhere. This moment could be the start of rebuilding the Napa economy. I look forward to seeing yard signs saying, “Napa Strong!”.

Chris d. Craiker AIA/NCARB

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