Well, at least there weren’t any wildfires.
This is perhaps the best thing that can be said about a year marked by severe drought, legal disputes, the closure of an iconic local business and a seemingly endless pandemic.
Here is a look back at the 10 best reports from Saint Helena in 2021:
Drought causes water emergency
The Saint Helena will long remember 2021 for one of the worst water emergencies in its history.
Saint Helena ended the 2020-2021 rainy season with just 10.32 inches of rain, the driest year on record. During the drought of the 1970s, for comparison, St Helena scored 12.39 inches in ’75 -’76 and 13.54 inches in ’76 -’77.
The city declared a Phase II water supply emergency in October 2020. Residential customers were limited to 65 gallons per person per day, plus 2,500 gallons per month for irrigation. Non-residential customers had to reduce their consumption by 10%.
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The penalties that took effect in June looked small on paper – starting at just 1.3 cents a gallon – but quickly added up. In part due to leaks, customers racked up $ 2.9 million in penalties in the first month, with 290 penalties exceeding $ 10,000.
Conservation efforts subsequently improved and the city offered a generous forgiveness program. Conservation became a way of life as the Saint Helens shortened their showers, let their lawns and plants die, and invested in Flume water controllers.
A major October storm dumped over 10 inches of rain on St. Helena just weeks before Bell Canyon Reservoir’s official diversion season on November 15 – or had the season already started? The city permit says “approximately November 15th”. Whether Saint Helena can keep this water seems to depend – very seriously – on the definition of the word “about”.
The issue may have been mooted when December rains filled Bell Canyon, allowing the city to reduce the water emergency from Phase II to Phase I on Tuesday. However, authorities are still urging customers to save the water for the New Year.
The pandemic drags on
The year started with great promise as the Saint Helena Hospital Foundation put in place an ambitious and continuous effort to immunize the people of Saint Helena. Yet the coronavirus – and its cumbersome restrictions on daily activities – has proven to be stubborn.
Starting in January with people aged 75 and over, COVID-19 vaccines gradually became available for children as young as 5 years old. However, variants like delta and omicron have continued to pop up, and the requirements for indoor masks are still in place.
There were signs of recovery. Tourism has rebounded significantly with the reopening of hotels and wineries. Events like the Harvest Festival / Pet Parade and the Festa Italiana have returned, innovative businesses like Legit Provisions and Crisp Kitchen & Juice have opened, and the St. Helena Historical Society has periodically opened its long-awaited heritage center in the city. old Catholic school in St. Helena. .
However, the upcoming Bookmark Napa Valley has been postponed due to the omicron variant – a reminder that the pandemic is still not over with us.
City settles Hall’s case
The legal battle between the City of St. Helena and the owners of the former Vineland Vista mobile home park appears to be over, with city council approving a settlement agreement requiring the city to provide water to the property and pay $ 950 $ 000 to the owners, Hall Vineland and Hall Vista.
The case was based on the city issuing a letter of will pledging to continue providing water to the property – a letter that was rescinded after city officials raised concerns about the fact that the Halls planned to build a hotel on the property, which is just south of the city limits. The owners have filed a complaint to preserve their rights to the water.
The conditions contained in the bylaw appear very favorable to the Halls, although the city has been able to cap water use in the old mobile home park and in the adjacent cellar. City officials say the settlement will avoid the possibility of a worse trial outcome and allow them to move on to more important issues.
City take on Pacaso in court
Just as Uber and Lyft disrupted the taxi industry and Facebook pretty much everything, Pacaso set out to disrupt the second home industry.
These efforts hit a sore spot in St. Helena, where high prices and shrinking supply of middle-income housing had already put homeownership and timeshare under the microscope.
The wealthy startup sued the city in April after officials attempted to enforce its timeshare ban against Pacaso, which uses a similar model in which up to eight parties can buy shares in a company that owns title to a house.
The federal lawsuit claims that the Pacaso Homes are not timeshares and that the city’s enforcement efforts are “the latest chapter in a long history of the city’s inappropriate attempts to exclude outsiders from the community.”
The dispute unfolded not only in the courts, but also in St. Helena neighborhoods like Vineyard Avenue, Kearney Street and Riesling Way, where anti-Pacaso activists from St. Helena and beyond criticized the company. for transforming middle-class housing into party houses occupied by part-time workers with little or no connection to the community.
A federal judge dismissed part of Pacaso’s lawsuit in July, but the larger case is still pending.
The closure of Vasconi
The Vasconi Pharmacy, a symbol of old Saint Helena and a throwback to the city’s Norman Rockwellian past, closed in June after 70 years in business.
Hap and Patty Vasconi’s decision to retire sparked a wave of nostalgia among Saint Helena locals who remembered the store not only stocking up on prescription drugs, but also local gossip and an exhilarating dose of Small town americana.
“We had a good race,” Patty told The Star. “It was just time to go out,” Hap said.
A new clothing store, Tweed & Vine, took over part of the old Vasconi space in November, but it’s still unclear what will happen in the long term to one of the centre’s most visible and memorable storefronts. -City of Saint Helena.
The city rents premises to the CNV
Does everyone like goodwill or not? story. Gen X had Ross and Rachel, Muppets fans had Kermit and Miss Piggy, and St. Helena political enthusiasts had the town of St. Helena and Napa Valley College.
This summer, they did, as the city finally entered into a five- to seven-year lease to use part of the Napa Valley College Upper Valley campus as the next city hall.
City employees and police have yet to move in pending leasehold improvements, but the impending move has sparked discussions on how best to use the city’s own buildings in the future. In November, city council asked staff to investigate affordable housing at the Temporary Town Hall on Railroad Avenue, a commercial or mixed-use project in the smoke-damaged Old Town Hall on Main Street, and renting the Carnegie Building.
Project Hunter gets a cold response
After nearly 10 years of continuous progress, the Hunter 87-unit project finally reached the stage of public hearings in November.
Public comments were uniformly negative, with reviews ranging from water consumption and emergency evacuation to visual impacts along the path from the library to the Napa River.
The housing project would not directly affect the trail, and a $ 597,000 fee in lieu of water-saving renovations would theoretically make the project water neutral. But if the public comments are any indication, the Saint Helens are not happy.
Their comments will be incorporated into a final environmental impact report slated for public hearings in the first quarter of 2022.
Candidates line up for Dillon’s seat
Five-term supervisor Diane Dillon announced in January that she would not stand for re-election in 2022. Within days, District 3 candidates fought for her seat.
Anna Chouteau, St Helena City Council member, and Napa County Planning Commissioner Anne Cottrell were the first to announce, followed quickly by Napa Valley College administrator Ines DeLuna, the winemaker and former Dillon challenger Cio Perez, Napa Valley College administrator Rafael Rios III, and Yountville mayor John. Dunbar.
If no candidate wins 50% of the vote in the primary on June 7, 2022, the first two candidates will enter a second round in November.
The water audit sues the city
The city ended up with yet another lawsuit when Water Audit California accused the city in June of mismanaging its water to the detriment of the Napa River and its aquatic habitat.
The environmental group, which recently sued Napa County on similar grounds, said the city was ignoring a cause-and-effect relationship between the extraction of groundwater for municipal use and declining water flows. surface in streams like the Napa River.
The lawsuit came after months of pre-negotiations which led the two sides to issue a joint statement in February announcing that the city would collect more water data and make it publicly available – something Water Audit says doesn’t. is never produced.
Our City is expanding its housing efforts
Someone forgot to tell Our Town that 2021 was supposed to be pessimistic.
Instead, what started out as a local housing advocacy group continued to transform into a full-fledged developer and owner.
On Pope Street, where Our Town had acquired land for five affordable units, a donation from Jim and Stephanie Gamble enabled Our Town to purchase adjacent land and double the project to 10 units.
On Hunt Avenue, with financial assistance from the city, Our Town has acquired the 4-unit Christine Apartments, which will be converted into regulated affordable housing.
And on McCorkle Avenue, the 8-unit Brenkle Court project is nearing completion, as eight local families provide labor to build their future homes.
“I thought this was a dream I could never fulfill … for someone of my income level,” Anai Ortiz, one of the future owners of Brenkle Court, told The Star this summer. way beyond my wildest dreams.
You can reach Jesse Duarte at 967-6803 or [email protected]