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Stopping Napa Valley Growth

By Charles Olken

You may remember the old Yogi Berra saying about Lindy’s restaurant in New York, “that place is so popular, nobody goes there anymore”.

What Yogi was referring to, of course, were the good old days when he and his friends could walk in and take over the place. It was hard to be hip when all the world was onto you and wanted to be you.

Some of the same feeling affects the Napa Valley now, and it is the long-time residents who are feeling the pain. The Napa Valley has become so popular that there are days when it seems to be a twenty-mile long parking lot. It was hip, it was cool to be a Napa Valley resident. The place is beautiful, and it used to be bucolic. In a way, it still is, but not for many of the folks who moved there and have seen popularity undue the very advantages they sought from moving out to the countryside.

Now, I have no dog in this struggle between the forces of no-growth and unbridled growth. But, I do understand that if left unchecked, Napa will become less and less attractive as a place to live. Maybe it is already. Try driving through St. Helena during the day. Yes, I realize that locals do know how to use the back streets to beat the impassable congestion, but even that strategy is not going to save them forever.

The question is not whether Napa can be saved from itself but whether the locals can come up with a plan to make things less difficult than they are now or what they will turn into with increasing numbers of wineries staffed by increasing numbers of workers and filled with increasing numbers of visitors.

Despite cries that Napa is spoiled, that is simply not true. Nor is “spoilage” a likely result. Even London with all its congestion was never spoiled—just overcrowded. Today, London limits traffic in the center of the city by charging non-residents to enter its space. High tech cameras photograph every license plate and send a bill to those cars not registered. London, of course, has a superb public transit system and is constantly upgrading it. For Napa to do anything close to imposing the kind of London-like charge, it too would have to make a vast investment in public transportation and parking lots south of the Valley so that parking and riding a network of busses (one presumes) would be cheaper and easier than trying to drive through the congestion and then paying dearly for the privilege. And, if you have been to London lately, while it may be true that it takes less time to transit the center city than it did a few years ago, the drive is still no picnic.

The Napa Valley is no longer what it used to be. It will forever be so popular that the geeks don’t go there anymore, but the denizens do have the right and responsibility to choose how crowded they want their little spot of heaven to become. It is a battle that pits commerce against the no-growth forces. Hopefully, they will not let the market decide for surely that will turn the place into Lindy’s. Yogi was right; truly, nobody goes there anymore.


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Napa spoil
by NapNativ
Posted on:5/4/2016 5:00:46 AM

I am a local Nappan born and raised and would certainly like to agree with the first half of this article. Beyond spoiling if you consider to what effect all this growth is driving us to. The feeling is that of cooking the golden goose. 

The prime land for viticulture in Napa was planted years ago. Protected from cold and wind on the valley floor and over the water table is where the best fruit is produced here, where sediment from the river has deposited rich and diverse soil over the centuries. 

It isnt congestion or the tourists that threaten Napa but the monied greed that cannot stop it self from bottling awful wine grown on some clear cut oak forest on a wind swept hilltop. 

Little by little the Napa Valley brand, our prestige in the world markets, getschipped away as more unwhitting comsumers get duped into buying bad wine because it said Napa Valley on the bottle. 

Also when questioned about why they visit Napa as many tourists claimed it was for the bucolic surroundings as said for the wine itself. 

I cant imagine a heaven that some people would not try to exploit!

p.s. The thought of Napa being modelled after London sounds like hell on earth to me. Otherwise a thoughtful article. 

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