The following letter from Napa resident Chris Bell addresses the deplorable conditions of the roads on Mt. Veeder, conditions increasingly common on our county roads. Although the County continues to support growth in tourism and wine sales, the situation with our country roads is precarious and dangerous and the County contends there is little money to fix them . Mr. Bell raises the question: what about residents? With so much money pouring in from the hospitality and winery businesses, why is so little being used to ensure our roads are safe? Bell offers a solution.
My wife and I went to a sort of “town hall” meeting last week that the residents up Mt Veeder pulled together after enduring some pretty tough and dangerous situations in last month’s storms. There were about 50 of us there with our district supervisor and the head of the county road department and local fire chiefs.
As we drove north for the 15 minute drive up Mt Veeder road to the meeting we passed three places where the road was only one makeshift lane. It had either caved off into the creek, or a landslide had come down into the road. The road was temporarily filled back in or graded to allow a tight and very slow passage…And then another one lane section that has caved off the hillside and has been that way for so long the temporary guard rail is now covered with moss…There were also a few other large sinking spots that were on the verge of failing with another good storm. None of the ditches that allow drainage were flowing because they haven’t been cleaned out in years and the pot holes and huge fishers in the road promoted many a hit the brakes quick situation.
Remembering back about a month ago, we had a massive landslide just south of us on Redwood road that shut off the southbound path into Napa for a week, making this northbound route the only way out for about 600 people. This “detour” makes the normal 7 minute drive to Napa about an hour and 15 minutes during traffic hours.
What we learned in this meeting is this:
Our county road maintenance is paid for by a gas tax and hasn’t been changed since 1993. What has changed is that now we have very efficient cars and electric cars, and revenue from gas tax has shrunk over 25% since 93. It seems most of that budget goes to Silverado Trail because of the high volume of traffic there.
Napa county passed “Measure T” last year but won’t see any funds available until 2018 at which point they will be able to begin the year’s worth of engineering and planning to repair our road. So today, in 2017 the road is barely passable…it’s the only way out if there is a road failure heading south, and it’s not going to be fixed until maybe 2021.
Now consider this scenario…This road travels thru some of the most wooded forest in California, and there’s about 600 people, numerous wineries, commercial vineyards, a few 10-30 million dollar estates, it’s a well driven back route for bikes and cars between Napa and Sonoma and a well traveled route for Mt Veeder grapes during harvest. And according to the officials, it will be 4 or 5 fire seasons between now and the time ANY if this is fixed???
If a fire starts up on the mountain we will have a mass exodus down the mountain at the same time we have potentially 100s of large emergency vehicles and equipment heading up the mountain… many of them weighing 10-20 times over what the roads have people admitted is a very low weight limit on the current road. Remember the footage of the residents in Lake County last year having to flee thru the burning roads to escape?
What we now have the potential for is a headline that reads “Hundreds trapped (or killed) in Mt Veeder fire”…followed by billions in losses to property because firefighters couldn’t get up the mountain with heavy equipment and emergency services.
This is scary and potentially possible.
Now here’s the ironic part…Napa county generates massive dollars annually in wine and tourist related businesses for the county and creates a hefty income for the federal coffers…And according to Google Napa county property tax records show an all time high of $30 billion last year. So there is plentiful dollars generated by the use of the roads and land in Napa County… yet the politicians have created and are allowing a potentially life threatening situation on ours ( and I’m sure most other) Napa county roads.
If you consider how many bottles of wine are produced in Napa County, and added a 5 cent a bottle tax ( charged to the buyer not the winery) on every bottle that went out of this valley to pay for the roads that everyone who makes, buys and drinks the wine uses…we would have ample funds available every year by now to stop this dangerous situation. But the valley gets richer, the tourists get drunker, the airport hosts more private jets and our roads get busier every year as we sit there and listen to all the red tape and political reasons why our rural county roads are not on any high priority lists for immediate repairs. It’s time to rethink how this is working out now that lives are now in danger for our rural residents.
Political talk and justifications for “5 year plans” to repair and make our roads safe will be a huge liability when we have a tragedy that cost the lives of Napa residents.
In 2017 in one of the richest producing counties in the nation there is no excuse for this scenario to even be possible. But this is the reality on Mt Veeder in Napa, California, 2017.