NAPA VALLEY (California) REGISTER

January 3, 2017

 

Napa seeks state law to raise local farmworker housing assessment

 

By BARRY EBERLING

 

Napa County will seek state legislation to allow local grape growers to increase an annual, self-imposed assessment that helps pay for farmworker housing.

The county runs three dormitory-style migrant farmworker housing centers with a total of 180 beds. That provides places to live for workers who help make Napa County’s internationally famous wine country possible by tending its vines.

Much of the money for the $1.3 million annual operating cost comes from a $10-per-acre annual assessment paid by vineyard owners and a $13-a-day rent paid by lodgers.

But the centers are running at a loss and savings will run out in a couple of years, former county Housing and Intergovernmental Affairs Director Larry Florin said in September. The county is looking for solutions.

Vineyard owners can’t raise the $10-per-acre assessment because it is capped by state legislation. The Napa County Board of Supervisors on Dec. 20 authorized staff to seek state legislation that would raise the cap to $15 per acre.

Success at the state level wouldn’t automatically raise the assessment, a county report said. Rather, it would enable eligible vineyard owners to vote on a higher assessment.

The move has the support of the wine industry, said Rex Stults of Napa Valley Vintners.

“It kind of comes with a handshake agreement that we don’t foresee see the actual assessments going up by five bucks right away,” Stults said.

Rather, vineyard owners would be asked to phase in the per-acre assessment hikes. The present deficit could be covered by a $1-per-acre increase mirrored by a $1 increase in the daily rent paid by farmworkers, he said.

On a related note, Stults said that the state pays tens of millions of dollars for farmworker housing in the Central Valley. Napa County receives no annual state payments and seems to get penalized for being so innovative and successful with its program, he said.

“We would really like to change that dynamic,” Stults said.

The Board of Supervisors agreed. It also authorized staff to seek state money to help support the local program through the Office of Migrant Services or other housing funding sources.

“We’ve been to Sacramento and everyone thinks Napa is so well-off,” Board Chairman Alfredo Pedroza said.

But Napa County has a successful model because the growers, farmworkers and the county all contribute. The message to Sacramento is that it would be maximizing its investment by investing in Napa, Pedroza said.