Ongoing Vintner-Led Commitment To Farmworker Housing In Napa Valley Marked By Grand Opening Ceremony
River Ranch Farmworker Center Opens In St. Helena On Site Donated By Vintner Joseph Phelp
5/30/2003 - Napa, California, - Local Napa Valley vintners, state and local officials, farmworker advocates and residents gathered in St. Helena today to celebrate the grand opening of Napa County's newest, best-equipped farmworker housing facility -The River Ranch Farmworker Center.
Ideally located along the Silverado Trail in St. Helena on eight- -acre parcel donated by vintner Joseph Phelps, the complex will serve as home to 60 seasonal farmworkers who spend a portion of the year working in Napa Valley vineyards. River Ranch is owned and will be managed by the Napa Valley Housing Authority.
The $3.4 million River Ranch project is the long-awaited result of a concerted effort led by Napa Valley vintners and growers to help solve housing shortages for local farmworkers. The Napa Valley Vintners (NVV) worked closely with elected officials to introduce and pass state legislation to allow Napa vintners to implement a permanent, mandatory tax of up to $10 per acre on vineyard property - creating an ongoing pool of additional funds for farmworker housing programs managed by the County.
Subsequently, a local county ballot initiative (Measure L) was introduced and passed to allow landowners to donate parcels of less than 40 acres if used exclusively for farmworker housing. Now, plots as small as two acres may be donated and zoned for farmworkers. This led to the donation by Joseph Phelps of the River Ranch property.
The new 60-bed River Ranch facility, including two dormitories, multi-purpose room and athletic field, was created using rammed-earth technology - a process which uses primarily reinforced earth from cave tailings, rather than lumber to construct a foundation and framework for a new structure. Most of the soil used for the River Ranch Center came from cave tailings generated by the construction of winery projects throughout Napa County.
"The opening of River Ranch is an opportunity to celebrate," said Peter Dreier, executive director of the Napa Valley Housing Authority. "This is the first new facility in Napa's wine country in more than 20 years and it's a real model for the rest of the country. I think we've shown what can be done when a community works together to solve its own problems."
The County of Napa contributed $1,200,000, and the State of California's Joe Serna Jr. Farmworker Grant Program contributed $1,557,609 dollars to the Napa Valley Housing Authority for the construction of the River Ranch Center. The Authority operates three additional farmworker facilities in Napa County, capable of housing 177 workers. With the opening of River Ranch, the total rises to 237 available slots. Workers pay $11.50 per day for the housing, which includes three meals per day, six days per week.
The Napa Valley Vintners, through its annual Napa Valley Wine Auction, has contributed $645,775 toward the construction of River Ranch.
"As far as we're concerned, this is just the beginning," said Clay Gregory, president of the Napa Valley Vintners. "River Ranch sets a great example for others in the community to step forward and help us take care of some of the most important contributors to the Valley - our farmworkers."
Gregory added, "We're extremely proud of this historic new facility and intend to keep the momentum going until our local farmworker housing needs are fully met. And, we hope this approach may spur others in agricultural America to consider similar efforts."
Since 1995, the combined philanthropic force of the Napa Valley Wine Auction and voluntary vineyard assessments generated by the Napa Valley Vintners and the Napa Valley Grape Growers Association have contributed nearly $1.7 million to supporting farmworker housing in Napa County. Through a variety of contributions, Napa Valley vintners have supported county-run farmworker labor camps, including the interim use of a yurt village, to provide clean, safe, affordable housing to one of the region's most vital workforces.
The donation of the Joseph Phelps property and the River Ranch Farmworker Center is part of the Napa Valley Vintners and the Napa Valley Housing Authority's ongoing efforts to meet Napa County's evolving housing needs.