Napa County and its five jurisdictions have joined together to back measures on the November ballot that would infuse new funding into affordable housing programs — in an unconventional way.
The ballot measures propose to increase the transient occupancy tax (TOT) by 1 percentage point, from 12 percent to 13 percent, to fund workforce and affordable housing projects, programs and services. TOT is paid by visitors who stay overnight at a lodging property for less than 30 days. It’s not paid by the residents or businesses running the hotels.
Voters will see their city’s measure on the ballot, as well as one that proposes to raise the tax on visitors staying at hotels in the unincorporated areas of the county. Each jurisdiction has its own measure with similar verbiage. A “yes” vote on both gives 1 percent to the city, and another 1 percent to the county’s unincorporated areas, according to Catherine Heywood, vice president, community and industry relations, Visit Napa Valley. The measure, which needs two-thirds vote to pass, would go into effect on Jan. 1, 2019.
While it’s uncommon for TOT funds to go to affordable housing — the tax usually goes toward projects like road repairs, and programs that promote tourism — the idea isn’t new in Napa.
“Back in 2014 there was a presentation from an affordable housing task force that put out a report about what it would take to have some meaningful impact to improve the housing situation in Napa,” Heywood said. “Increasing TOT was one of the recommendations.”
Several years later, the concept began to gain traction.
“In April 2018, the Board of Supervisors designated two supervisors to engage in conversations with the five municipalities and Visit Napa Valley to discuss doing this increase across the county,” said Diane Dillon, Napa County supervisor for the third district. “Within a few months, all had agreed and each jurisdiction adopted an appropriate resolution...”
Heywood said it took a while for the lodging industry to understand that increasing the TOT would be beneficial for recruitment and retention.
“For every job opening they’re trying to fill, they’re looking at the labor pool here,” she said, noting that low unemployment and lack of affordable housing isn’t an easy challenge to overcome.
The message isn’t lost on Erik Burrow, general manager at the Doubletree Napa Valley in American Canyon.
“I came here a week after it became a Doubletree,” said Burrow, who joined the hotel in June 2011. The property was formerly known as Gaia Napa Valley Hotel. “For the first three or four years, we would have a job fair and there were people lined up at 7 a.m. for an 8 a.m. start. Now we wait for them to show up.”
Retention also is a problem for the hotel, which employs approximately 110 people, he said.
“I’d say we’re seeing 40 percent turnover,” Burrow said. “It’s scary at the beginning of each year when we go through all our paperwork from the previous year and see the short time people were here (and left) because they found something closer to home.”
The Archer Hotel Napa, which has been open nearly a year, didn’t disclose turnover rate but general manager Michael Collins did say that housing issues are raised when new team members join from outside Napa Valley.
By the numbers
Napa County, its cities and towns jointly agreed to put a measure on the November ballot that would increase the Transient Occupancy Tax (TOT) on hotels by 1 percent — from 12 percent to 13 percent — to fund workforce and affordable housing projects, programs and services.
This is how much each jurisdiction would receive annually, should its individual measure pass:
American Canyon: Measure H, $140,000
Napa: Measure F, $2,100,000
Yountville: Measure S, $650,000
St. Helena: Measure E, $279,000
Calistoga: Measure D, $512,000
Napa County: Measure I, $1,100,000
Sources: County of Napa; Visit Napa Valley