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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

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

“There is a negative impact on quality of life that comes with long-distance commuting,” Collins said. “Living closer to work has a positive impact on quality of life and retention. … I do not see any downside to this proposal.”

According to the Napa Valley Transportation Authority’s most recent figures from its 2015 “Vision 2040: Moving Napa Forward” study, the base employment level for Napa County is 69,000 people. Using that number, there are “20,000 in-commuters a day, including 11,000 workers commuting to Napa County from Solano County (16 percent), and 4,000 from Sonoma County (6 percent). Lake County and Contra Costa County each accounted for about 1,500 in-commuters, or about 2 percent each.”

Burrow, who has been driving to work from Vacaville for more than seven years, said the commute gets old.

“The traffic has gotten worse,” he said, noting congestion can be just as bad at 6 a.m. or 9 a.m. “I can’t predict it anymore.” Burrow said he believes the affordable-housing measure is a “win-win for everybody,” and he is not sitting idle hoping it will pass.

In July, Burrow joined American Canyon Mayor Leon Garcia in co-authoring an argument in favor of Measure H (as it’s called in American Canyon). He also has been involved for five years with Visit Napa Valley, and is set to become its board chair for the fiscal year starting in July 2019.

“I think what’s most important is being able to provide (employees) somewhere affordable to live,” he said, “perhaps with assistance and a down payment.”

That would be a possibility should the measures pass. The cities of American Canyon and Napa have an existing down-payment assistance program for first-time homebuyers, funded through grant funds received from the state’s Department of Housing and Community Development, according to the city Of Napa’s website.

There also could be other collaborative approaches between the jurisdictions, such as joint housing projects, Heywood said.

“Another opportunity is these funds could potentially be leveraged against other funding sources,” she said. “So if there’s a state-housing fund as a local match, (the funds) could be used for that.”

Larry Florin, CEO of Burbank Housing, couldn’t agree more.

“This additional housing is critical for the ability to use local money to access state and federal funds,” Florin said. “So for every dollar of local money that goes into a local project, we generally bring in $3 to $4 from the state and federal level.”

Burbank Housing, a Santa Rosa-based nonprofit developer, built the Palisades Apartments in Calistoga and is currently building Stoddard West in Napa, in partnership with the Gasser Foundation, Florin said. Two other projects in Napa are in the works and getting ready to break ground, including Redwood Grove, a new 34-home development for first-time homebuyers, and the Valle Verde Drive project, comprised of a former assisted-living facility and a nearby single-family home.

“There’s a huge unmet need in Napa for affordable housing,” Florin said. “We have waiting lists for people who want to get into our housing.”

With the election a week away, Napa officials are staying the course in working hard to encourage voters to approve the measures.

“Our marketing efforts are focused to ensure that residents know our visitors would be paying this tax increase,” said Belia Ramos, Napa County supervisor for the fifth district.

Does she see any disadvantages to the TOT measure? Not really.

“While it will raise the transit occupancy tax, I believe that this is well within the threshold of what similar jurisdictions charge,” Ramos said. “We do not believe that visitors will be discouraged from laying their heads in our beds.”

Voters hold the cards until the wee hours of Nov. 7.

“We want our partners to be able to focus on hospitality and all of the wonderful amenities that are here in Napa Valley for visitors to enjoy,” Heywood said, “and not worry about not having enough staff to keep beds made and service levels up to where they want them.”

Staff Writer Cheryl Sarfaty covers tourism, hospitality, health care and education. Reach her at cheryl. sarfaty@busjrnl.com