Sunday, July 10, 2011

2010-07-10 "City, county skirt duty to house workers" letter by "Latinos Unidos" to the editor of "Napa Valley Register" newspaper
Hector Olivera, president of Latinos Unidos, and David Grabill, legal counsel for Latinos Unidos
Decent affordable housing is a basic human right. Most local governments in areas outside Napa County understand that it’s also good business and good for the environment to provide adequate housing for all income levels close to employment centers. But the Napa County Board of Supervisors has not approved a single unit of affordable housing in many years. County officials eagerly approve new wineries, hotels, restaurants and other businesses, but say that housing for the workers isn’t the county’s concern. Now, one-third of Napa County’s workforce — mostly the lower-income third, and mostly Latino — spend hours commuting to work each day from homes outside the county. Most of them would much prefer to live close to their work if housing were available and affordable.
Latinos Unidos won a court case challenging these discriminatory housing policies in 2004, and the county agreed to allow affordable housing on sites in the Monticello/Atlas Peak area near the city of Napa. But a few months later, county officials helped to block utility service to those sites so no multi-family housing could be built. The Monticello sites have now been dropped from the housing element. Sites in Moskowite Corner, Spanish Flats and other remote areas have been designated for the county’s affordable housing. Those areas are far from work, schools, stores and services, and no affordable housing is likely to get built there in the foreseeable future. The county is also spending thousands of dollars on lobbyists in Sacramento to get laws passed (AB 542 and AB 679) that would more or less exempt the county from approving any affordable housing.
Allowing development of housing on the 150-acre Napa Pipe site could meet the county’s affordable housing needs for many years to come. Development of that site would allow thousands of employees in the nearby business parks, Napa State Hospital and Napa Valley Community College an opportunity to live within walking distance of where they work. But a development proposal for that site has met with stiff opposition from groups opposed to growth, and approval is at best uncertain.
The city of Napa has also done a poor job of providing affordable housing for its workforce. Only a few units of affordable housing have been approved in the last 10 years. The City Council is threatening to block any development of affordable housing on the Napa Pipe site, even though it recently approved a huge resort hotel complex at Stanly Ranch that will create hundreds of lower-wage jobs. Latinos Unidos welcomes the news that the city and the county are both pledging money to support affordable housing, but that funding pledge doesn’t mean the city will actually approve construction of any affordable housing. The 130-unit Alexander Crossing project includes
26 affordable units and comes before the City Council later this month, but faces strong opposition. Two other projects with about
100 affordable units have also been promised funding if the City Council actually approves them next year. But even if all these units somehow gain approval, the city will be far short of meeting its 800-unit regional share of new housing for lower-income families for the seven-year planning period that ends in just 36 months.
Several years ago, at the urging of local wineries, the county allowed construction of three bunkhouses for farmworkers in the St. Helena and Calistoga areas. These facilities help provide a steady labor supply for the wineries, and workers don’t have to sleep in their cars. But temporary shelter in bunkhouses is no substitute for real affordable housing where farmworkers can live with their families and participate in the community. County ordinances make it all but impossible to provide affordable housing for farmworkers in the unincorporated areas.
Latinos Unidos disagrees with Judge Guadagni’s recent decision upholding the county’s housing plan, and we’re considering ways to challenge it. The state agency responsible for reviewing those plans ruled last year that the county did not comply with state law. The court of appeals just last week overturned another decision by Judge Guadagni upholding the city of Napa’s housing plan. Latinos Unidos will continue to advocate for affordable housing until the workers who clean the hotel rooms, cook and serve the restaurant meals, harvest and process the grapes and do all the other jobs that make this county one of the richest in the state, are allowed the opportunity to live in Napa County.

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