What Happened At Lake Berryessa? A Condensed Political History
1958 - 2017

How Could the Government Have Done Something So Stupid?

by Peter Kilkus

Many people ask me about the history of the process that led to the present situation at Lake Berryessa. When I explain what happened most become incredulous and can't believe the government could have done something so stupid. "How could they have gotten away with that?" they exclaim.

The Bureau of Reclamation has destroyed family recreation at Lake Berryessa for a generation of children. Here's an interview I did in 2010, three years after the interview below with Pat Monaghan and just after Pensus had been given the contract for 5 resorts. As we all know Pensus was subsequently kicked out in 2012.    

Here's a 2007 TV interview with Pat Monaghan, cofounder of Task Force 7 at Lake Berryessa, to give you some historical insight. Those of you who remember Pete Lucero will recognize his description of what we called "The Big Lie" - which turned into the "Epic Fail”.


Download a PDF of this timeline here.



Reclamation enters into a long-term agreement with Napa County to manage recreational development at Lake Berryessa.


Napa County awards seven long-term (30 year) concession agreements to newly formed resorts to provide recreation services. Leased mobile home sites provide revenue needed to support short-term uses such as camping and launching.


Lake Berryessa Public Use Plan (PUP) prepared by the National Park Service (NPS). “Should accommodate 3,000 boats at 125 launch ramps; minimum of 8,000 picnic sites and 800 camp sites.”

April 22, 1970

The first Earth Day marks the birth of the modern environmental movement. Coincidentally,  the five year “The Big Lie” attack on Lake Berryessa begins.

February, 1972

Government Accountability Office Audit: “Public Recreational Facilities Not Adequately Developed at Lake Berryessa.” One of the first 1970s reports criticizing Lake Berryessa facilities. Generally a silly hit piece introducing “The Big Lie: The Lake Berryessa resorts, especially the mobile homes in the resorts, discouraged the general public from accessing the lake, prevented the public from using the best parts of the shoreline, and also polluted the lake.”

1972 - 1973

Congressman Don Clausen involvement: Supported Napa County. Introduced H.R. 11758 to authorize the Federal government to direct the development, operation, and maintenance of day-use facilities.

March, 1972

National Park Service  releases controversial “Plan for Recreation Development - Draft”. Opposed by Napa County.

April, 1972

Napa County released “Lake Berryessa Day Use Facilities Plan” in response to the NPS plan.

August, 1972

National Park Service formally updates the PUP at Reclamation's request. “Plan for Recreation Development - Final”. NPS concluded that Lake Berryessa is “not of national significance for recreation”. Proposed 16 Development Areas all around the lake to serve 9 million annual visitors!


After years of fruitless discussion and debate with Reclamation regarding the Lake Berryessa management agreement, Napa County notifies Reclamation of its intent to turn lake recreation management back to Reclamation by 1975.


Congress enacts Public Law 93-493 authorizing Reclamation to manage recreation at Lake Berryessa. Reclamation constructs facilities as authorized: two day-use areas, public boat ramp, parking lot, and administrative offices. Amends 1975 Public Use Plan to allow mobile homes with some restrictions. 

1976 - 1980

Reclamation Lake Manager, B.E. Martin, attempts to cancel concession contracts. A lawsuit ensued and was settled in the concessioners’ favor in 1979. Court concluded: Plaintiffs (concessioners) constructed, at their own cost and expense, facilities for public use including but not limited to buildings, stores, access roads, vehicle parking areas, boat launching ramps and docks, mobile home pads, swimming beaches, picnic areas and camp sites. All of said improvements conformed to the Public Use Plan and had prior approval of Defendants and all County, State and Federal agencies having jurisdiction over said matter.”

September, 1980

Public Law 96-375: This law was passed to protect both the concessionaires and the government by allowing the concessionaire to receive fair market value for their property and improvements. Intent was twisted by Reclamation to force removal of ALL facilities in 2009 because they “didn’t want them”. This was the key element in the destruction of most facilities at the resorts. Reclamation’s interpretation was upheld in court.


Reclamation  extends all seven concession contracts for ten years each.


Reclamation prepares the Lake Berryessa Reservoir Area Management Plan (Ramp). Allowed long-term use for its positive economic benefits (Pg.60).

May 1, 1992

Reservoir Area Management Plan (RAMP) Final Environmental Impact Study (FEIS) released. Detailed 150 page+ analysis. Supported resort owners and long-term uses with some restrictions.

May, 1995

Inspector General (OIG) Report (95-I-870): "Recreation Management Activities at Selected Sites, Bureau of Reclamation." Criticized Reclamation for not removing mobile homes at the resorts.


Reclamation extends all seven concession contracts for another ten years.

May, 2000

OIG Report (00-I-376): "Concessions Managed by the Bureau of Reclamation" is critical of Reclamation management. Timing seems designed to support the newly announced Visitor Services Plan with negative comments about Lake Berryessa.

June 26, 2000

Reclamation announces the Visitor Services Plan (VSP) in a news release.

October, 2000

VSP Bulletin #1 sent out: Included VSP Schedule and negative (Big Lie) photos.

November 7, 2000

Reclamation formally initiates the Visitor Services Plan (VSP) process with a Notice of Intent published in the Federal Register on November 7, 2000.

March 6, 2001

Reclamation holds a “Media Tour” to publicize “pollution” problems allegedly caused by long-term sites and the resorts. Beginning of the “Big Lie” strategy originally used in the 1970s to discredit the resorts and mobile homeowners (permittees).

March 23, 2001

Reclamation VSP planning memo released for public comment on the VSP.

March 31, 2001

Reclamation hosts VSP open house at Solano County Fairgrounds - 500 people attend. Meeting announcement states that this is “not a formal meeting.”

May, 2001

VSP Bulletin #2 sent out soliciting public comments. In July 2001, Reclamation provides 28 pages of comments and written responses. 

May, 2001

Task Force 7 at Lake Berryessa formed with co-chairs Peter Kilkus and Pat Monaghan. Mission Statement: “To prevent the unjustified removal of mobile homes from Lake Berryessa through political action, community education, and environmental stewardship.”

May 10, 2001

Task Force 7 requests meeting with Reclamation for permittees. Reclamation ungraciously agrees “even though permittees are only one special interest group.” Reclamation is clear that all long-term sites are to be removed in any new plan.

August 7, 2001

TF7 representatives meet with Reclamation to discuss VSP. Reclamation again made it clear that mobile homes must be removed as part of any plan. Reclamation states permittees have no rights and have paid “$10,000 for a trailer and $50,000 for a view.”

August, 2001

Removal of 127 trailers from the "Outback" at Pleasure Cove due to a Notice of Violation from the Regional Water Quality Control Board.

May-June, 2001

Reclamation begins “Public Scoping” per the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process.

September, 2001

Reclamation publishes “Scoping Responses” – first public comment responding to VSP questions of 3/23/01.

November, 2001

Lake Berryessa Visitor Services Planning Task Force (LBVSPT) is formed and introduces its Coordinated Resource Management Plan (VSP-CRMP) and a new web site for public comment on the draft VSP. LBVSPT is a broader group than Task Force 7 and includes all stakeholders who support positive future improvements at Lake Berryessa. “Preserve the Best, Improve the Rest.”

September 23, 2002

Task Force 7 representatives travel to Washington, D.C. to meet with local Congressional representatives and present 10,015 signatures to the Bureau of Reclamation stating: “We, the undersigned, are opposed to the Bureau of Reclamation’s intention to remove all long-term sites at Lake Berryessa. We do not believe there is a compelling public policy reason for this harmful action, which would devastate the  community and cause economic hardship to many citizens. We support the LBVSPT alternative plan, which retains long-term sites, advocates an environmentally sound policy for managing the lake, and provides the public with a rewarding recreational experience.”

December 19, 2002

LBVSPT publishes its (VSP-CRMP). LBVSPT representatives meet with Reclamation representatives to discuss the VSP. Reclamation rejects the plan.

December 30, 2002

Reclamation publishes its Environmental  Compliance  and Facility  Condition Assessment  Report, Seven Concession Areas ("Kleinfelder  Report"). Generally negative summary of existing facilities and infrastructure at the resorts.

February, 2003

LBVSPT distributes letters and posters announcing VSP CRMP to all businesses and resorts around Lake Berryessa and 25 public agencies. Posts notices on Reclamation information boards at public launch ramp and Smittle Creek. Posters are taken down by Reclamation.

March 4, 2003

In response to LBVSPT announcement of VSP CRMP, Congressman Mike Thompson rejects LBVSPT, defends Reclamation process.

March 17, 2003

LBVSPT mails 360 VSP CRMP announcement letters to all home owners around Lake Berryessa (Berryessa Highlands, Spanish Flat, Berryessa Pines).

May 10, 2003

LBVSPT/TF7 holds scoping and information meetings at Putah Creek Resort, Rancho Monticello Resort, Spanish Flat Resort, Steele Park Resort.

May 25, 2003

TF7 Banjo Band Flotilla event introduces a Petition Signature drive. Boat caravan to Steele Park Resort, Spanish Flat Resort, Rancho Monticello Resort, and Putah Creek Resort with representatives to gather signatures and educate campers and visitors.

June 2, 2003

LBVSPT began Online Petition in support of LBVSPT CRMP: 986 signatures as of April, 2004.

July, 2003

Reclamation Area Manager, Tom Aiken, releases incendiary, false presentation and brochure promoting The Big Lie that resort mobile homes are polluting the lake. Includes nasty photos of a few mobile home violations at the Pleasure Cove Outback which had been known to Reclamation for many years and should have been resolved by them. Presentation claims Native Americans will weave special baskets to purify the lake water. Task Force 7 writes strong rebuttal to the brochure and presentation.

October 15, 2003

Reclamation releases the Dornbusch Report which evaluates the financial feasibility of VSP draft Alternative B, the “preferred alternative” which removes all mobile homes from the lake. Dornbusch concludes the Reclamation’s plan is marginally feasible but intensely complex based on highly questionable assumptions. Reclamation disingenuously promotes the report as justification for major disruption of lake operations with no guarantee of success. 

October 31, 2003

Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) released (250 pgs.). Four alternatives (A, B, C, D) proposed, but skewed to remove “long-term” sites “to correct over four decades of resort operations under which prime recreational areas have been reserved for long-term trailer site permittees to the exclusion of the majority of visitors to Lake Berryessa.” New version of “The Big Lie”.

November, 2003

Initial DEIS comment period begins. Extended twice in response to intense stakeholder demands created by TF7 and LBVSPT.

April 20, 2004

LBVSPT publishes its final Lake Berryessa Visitor Services Plan: LBVSPT Alternative A+. Proposes improvements to all facilities without the destruction of mobile homes. “Preserve the Best, Improve the Rest.”

May, 2004

Reclamation evaluates DEIS comments but intentionally skews results to support its plans. Reclamation categorizes comments that “want change” as being against retention of mobile homes even though written by present mobile home owners who also want positive change. Includes 888 Blue Water Network form letters to ban jet skis as anti-mobile home comments. A physical review by TF7 of all the 1,600 comment letters at the time (excluding the irrelevant Blue Water Network form letters) showed that at least 60% support the retention of mobile homes and other positive improvements.

September, 2004

Citizens to Protect Lake Berryessa commissions an independent economic peer review of Reclamation’s DEIS.

October 25, 2004

Economic Analysis of the Dornbusch Associates Report and the Bureau of Reclamation’s “Alternative B” Plan for Lake Berryessa By Adam B. Summers, M.A. & Michael R. Summers, Ph.D. Supports the conclusions of LBVSPT A+.

February, 2005

Reclamation, in an almost unprecedented action based on the Summers and Summers Economic Analysis, reopened the DEIS comment period for 45 days to accept additional comments the economic issues of their plan.

April 4, 2005

Lake Berryessa resort owners publish their VSP alternative: Resort Owners Plan (ROP), Future Recreation Use and Operations of Lake Berryessa. An independent economic analysis of the ROP is commissioned by LBVSPT: Analysis of the Resort Owners Plan for Lake Berryessa by Adam B. Summers, M.A. and Michael R. Summers, Ph.D, April 4, 2005. Summers Report supports the conclusions of the ROP.

Summer, 2005

Citizens to Protect Lake Berryessa and other groups bring the issue before Congress and request a review of the Reclamation’s actions and the implementation of the Resort Operators’ Plan in place of the BOR DEIS. Receives no support from Cong. Mike Thompson.

September, 2005

Reclamation submits modified DEIS and analysis of comments to Reclamation’s Washington, DC Office.

November 4, 2005

Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) released.

November 19, 2005

Winters Protest Meeting: More than 900 people with a stake in Lake Berryessa's future packed the Winters High School gym to denounce the Bureau of Reclamation's effort to eliminate long-time family recreation. Cong. Thompson does not attend. Reclamation’s plan for Lake Berryessa continues to grow in unpopularity.

November, 2005

At the request of Congressman Richard Pombo, Reclamation extends 30-day "cooling off “ period under NEPA to a full 6-months and accepts comments to the FEIS throughout this time.

June 2, 2006

Final Record of Decision (ROD) released. Requires removal of all mobile homes. Creates an “Annual Usage” category but refuses to allow this option to be used in future bids without penalty to the bidder.

April 22, 2007 - Earth Day

Rancho Monticello Resort Announces Compliance with the ISO 14000 International Environmental Standard. Rancho Monticello becomes the only resort at Lake Berryessa to implement an Environmental Management System meeting the requirements of ISO 14001, the internationally-recognized environmental management standard being used by leading companies around the world.

June 16, 2007

Berryessa For All v. United States Bureau of Reclamation seeks injunctive relief on the basis that the FEIS and VSP ROD violate NEPA, Administrative Procedure Act, and Federal Law.

June, 2007

Reclamation completes appraisals of existing facilities. Appraisals are contested as too low by concessioners for excluding their major infrastructure investments. Ultimately the appraisals were of no practical value since Reclamation claimed that no existing facilities were necessary and required them all to be demolished at the Concessioner’s own cost - citing their flawed interpretation of Public Law 96-375. 

June, 2007

Initial Bid Prospectus released soliciting proposals for all seven concession areas. Evaluation standards were deliberately written to favor a single bidder for multiple resorts and to penalize inclusion of the annual usage sites approved in the Record of Decision.

September 6, 2007

Initial due date for proposals in response to the Prospectus.

January - February , 2008

After delays due to litigation by Markley Cove owners, Reclamation panel evaluates bid proposals.

April, 2008

Selection of successful bidders: Pensus (5 resorts), Forever Resorts (Pleasure Cove), Markley Cove. The selection of Pensus is regarded by most knowledgeable observers as a fundamental error on the part of Reclamation. Subsequent events prove them correct.

Reclamation rejects the best and most environmentally-advanced bid from Lago Resorts on a technicality without even evaluating it. The bid was declared non-responsive due to one sentence that did not make the U.S. government the first lien holder on personal property loans. Lago Resorts, a partnership among Rancho Monticello, Putah Creek, Berryessa Marina, Spanish Flat and Markley Cove, immediately agreed to fix the “deficiency” but was rejected by Reclamation. Another major nail in the coffin of the recovery of Lake Berryessa as a prime recreation destination.

June, 2008

Negotiations initiated or scheduled between successful bidders and Reclamation. Pleasure Cove contract with Forever Resorts signed. Markley Cove contract nearing end of negotiations but never signed. Complex Pensus contract in process.

July 10, 2008

District Court Order in Berryessa For All v. United States Bureau of Reclamation: Court determines that the FEIS and VSP ROD adequately complied with NEPA and federal law. Mobile home owners have no further recourse and must demolish their homes at their own expense (approximately $3,500 each) since they are to old to be moved.

December, 2008

Reclamation awards new long-term concession contract for Pleasure Cove Marina to Forever Resorts.

March, 2009

Reclamation cancels negotiations with Markley Cove and Pensus because of a minor technicality in the bid document regarding future federal funding. The Antideficiency Act prohibits the government from purchasing, or implying that they may purchase, assets for which funds have not yet been officially approved by Congress. This could have been easily resolved. A single government attorney seriously disrupts a decades long process. Requires a complete rebid of the concession selection process, but allows Pleasure Cove contract to remain in force.

May 15, 2009

Revised Bid Prospectus released for six concession areas.

May 26, 2009

Intense public pressure forces Reclamation to sign interim contracts with Markley Cove and Steele Park to avoid interruption of services.

June 9, 2009

Intense public pressure forces Reclamation to agree to operate temporary campground at Oak Shores Day Use Area.

June, 2009

Reclamation initiates “environmental remediation and clean-up” at each concession area, including demolition of millions of dollars of useable facilities and infrastructure (launch ramps, roads utilities, restaurants, marinas, lodging).

September 30, 2009

New bid proposals due; five separate proposals received. Some previous bidders dropped out. Reclamation’s bid evaluation panel analyzes latest proposals during November.

January 14, 2010

Pensus Group selected as most responsive bid for all six concession areas. Markley Cove loses the bid it had previously won. Markley owners question the legality of the results and demand an investigation. OIG Investigative Report (March 3, 2011) determines there were no improprieties with the contract award process.

February 5, 2010

Reclamation signs settlement agreement with former operators regarding clean-up, access, and use of launch ramps and roads at the Steele Park concession area. Reclamation pays Steele Park owner several hundred thousand dollars despite previous requirement to demolish said roads and launch ramp. This action contradicts Reclamation’s demolition policy implemented at the other resorts and appears to be due to the intense public pressure to keep Steele Park open for basic recreation services.

April 28, 2010

Pensus Contract awarded. Pensus changes resort names which is a profoundly unpopular action with the local community. Basic services are provided by Pensus during 2010 at Lupine Shores (previously Steele Park) and Chaparral Cove (previously Putah Creek) concession areas. Relations between Pensus and Reclamation soon begin to deteriorate.

June 21, 2010

Long-term concession contract awarded to Pleasure Cove Marina LLC, superseding latest contract, despite previous statements by Reclamation that no contract changes would be allowed.

December, 2011 - Feb., 2012

Relations between Pensus and Reclamation continue to deteriorate with long legal arguments exchanged. Many of the problems appear to observers to be caused by Reclamation’s unrealistic policies and poor management. Pensus management appears inept and arrogant despite the validity of many of their complaints. 

February - March, 2012

Reclamation provides Pensus a Letter of Non-Compliance with 30-day opportunity to cure. Pensus responds to Reclamation's demand for cure. Reclamation provides Pensus a Notice of Proposed Termination

May - September, 2012

Reclamation and Pensus agree to invoke mediation.  Mediation ended with no settlement.

December 6, 2012

Notice of Proposed Termination referred to Mid Pacific Regional Director.

December 7, 2012

Reclamation announces decision to terminate Pensus contract. Under intense public pressure, Reclamation staff began operating three concession areas (Steele Park, Spanish Flat, Putah Creek) to continue to provide services to the public.

December, 2012

Reclamation held three public meetings to explain decision to terminate Pensus contract. Agrees to change five recreation area names to Putah Canyon, Berryessa Point, Monticello Shores, Spanish Flat, Steele Canyon. Names for Pleasure Cove and Markley Cove remain. 

January - September, 2013

Reclamation negotiates draft interim concession contracts with potential contractors;  purchased picnic tables, fire rings, and upright BBQ's to replace Pensus personal property; installed six double-vault concrete toilets at Steele Canyon, Spanish Flat, and Putah Canyon; installed six aluminum courtesy docks at Steele Canyon, Spanish Flat, and Putah Canyon Recreation Areas; and funded a $128,760 contract to provide private security services for Putah Canyon, Monticello Shores, and Berryessa Point Recreation Areas.

January 17, 2013

Reclamation holds a public meeting to discuss the establishment of a Community Forum. Forum created and held six Lake Berryessa Community Forum meetings during 2013.

May 1, 2013

Reclamation executes an interim contract with John and Linda Frazier to operate Markley Cove Resort. Contract had the unique and inconsistent provision, not allowed in any previous contract nor included in the previous bids invoking Public Law 96-375, that any company winning a future bid or buying Markley Cove would have to pay for the assessed value of the facilities (approximately $6M). 

May, 2013

Reclamation executes an interim contract with Pleasure Cove Marina, LLC, to operate Steele Canyon and Spanish Flat Recreation Areas, and with Royal Elk Park Management to operate Putah Canyon Recreation Area.

September - October, 2013

Reclamation prepares a Market Development Plan, Conceptual Site Plans, Conceptual Designs, and Potential Market Demand and Financial Feasibility Analysis for five concession areas.

September 11, 2013

Reclamation awards a contract to design and install three RV Dump Stations in Steele Canyon, Spanish Flat, and Putah Canyon Recreation Areas and to design and install a water distribution system at Putah Canyon Recreation Area.

January, 2014

Reclamation releases preliminary conceptual site diagrams for Steele Canyon, Spanish Flat, Berryessa Point, Monticello Shores, and Putah Canyon and held a public workshop to gather input on the draft plans.

July, 2015

Reclamation releases Concession Bid Prospectus.

February, 2016

Reclamation announces that no successful bids were received in response to the Prospectus for the development and long-term management of five concession areas at Lake Berryessa (Putah Canyon, Spanish Flat, Monticello Shores, Berryessa Point and Steele Canyon recreation areas). 

March 2, 2016

Reclamation holds Community Forum Public Meeting to explain results of failed bid process and faces intense vocal criticism from the attendees. Provides several potential alternative future actions. No communication from Reclamation since then.

March, 2016

Lake Berryessa News begins Renaissance Lake Berryessa campaign to return management of Lake Berryessa to Napa County.

April, 2016

Reclamation informs interim concessioners for three recreation areas that their contracts may be extended up to two years.

May 20, 2016

Reclamation releases Markley Cove Bid Prospectus several months late.

May, 2016

Lake Berryessa News: “A Path Forward To Revitalize Lake Berryessa: Fire The Feds!”

June, 2016

Lake Berryessa News: “Letter to the Federal Government: Get Out of Lake Berryessa!”

June, 2016

Napa County Supervisors direct staff to enter into negotiations for a Managing Partner Agreement between the County and Reclamation for the management of Lake Berryessa.

January, 2017

Napa County Supervisors direct staff to sign a Memorandum of Understanding with Reclamation and a contract with Ragatz Sedgwick Realty who will assist the County in identifying interested concession partners by marketing the opportunity to the resort community and performing a feasibility analysis to determine the best use of each site.


Editor's Note: In my research of the history of Lake Berryessa I came upon this interesting 45-year old Oakland Tribune article. It discusses the turmoil of the early '70s which led to Napa County giving management of the lake back to the Bureau of Reclamation in 1975. I'm sure many local people will remember these times. It appears the federal government was no more competent then than it is now. This was the period which spawned "The Big Lie" about the lake which was  used again in the 2000s and led to the present situation.



County, Lake Businesses Losing in Lake Berryessa Fuss

By Norm Hannon, Oakland Tribune, Saturday, November 27, 1971

“Pat Botts has completely stymied the government,” says Napa County Administrator Al Haberger, a little helplessly. “Don’t say one person can’t do anything,” he goes on with grudging admiration. “She has raised hell. She’s brought in Nader’s Raiders, Senator Tunney, an the General Accounting Office. The federal bureaucracy is incapable of making a decision because of Pat Botts,” he concludes.

Mrs. Botts is the Lake Berryessa real estate agent and antique dealer who for a number of years has been blasting the way Napa County has been running things at Lake Berryessa, the popular 25-square mile reservoir which it took over in 1958 from the Bureau of Reclamation.

So far her efforts have resulted in:

·       A moratorium on any further development by the seven concessionaires at the lake whose mobile home developments and docks cover substantial areas west and south sides.

·       A broadside in Ralph Nader’s report, “Power and Land in California,” charging misuse of government land.

·       A report by the National Park Service, issued last month, recommending that it take over and operate Berryessa as a National Recreation Area, which would push Napa County out of the picture and conceivably wipe out the concessionaires.

·       A bill introduced in Congress by Sen. John Tunney implementing the Park Service’s recommendation.

·       An audit by the General Accounting Office which absolves the seven concessionaires of any profit gouging and reveals, in fact, that only two of them are making any money.

In a remodeled schoolhouse on Route 121 near the lake, where she lives with her husband, Mrs. Botts keeps metal filing box full of documents to support her charges. Her concise presentation is followed by a slide showing of conditions at the various resorts, and she will offer to accompany any doubters on a guided tout of the lake.

Her answers are quick and she has hundreds of facts and figures at the ready. Her remarks sometimes get a bit personal.

She admits to one economic motive for her campaign. Real estate n the area is hard to sell when it’s so much cheaper to buy a mobile home and put it on federal land at the water’s edge.

Mobile home sites and hook-ups go for about $500 per year. Taxes outside the federal “take line” runs as high as $18 per hundred.

She would like to see a faster pace of development on surrounding lands, but she says the visual pollution on the lake shore and other ecological considerations also concern her, including lack of public access to most of the 7,000 federal acres surrounding the lake.

This last point hits the crux of the argument over what has happened at Berryessa in the last 13 years.

At the northern end of the lake, on a gate which bars access to the road down the forbidden east side, there are two signs. The big one reads, “Farm Access Road, Do Not Enter.” Beside it,  only inches away, is a smaller sign: “Boundary, Lake Berryessa, U.S. Department of the Interior, Bureau of Reclamation.” The bureau’s buffalo seal makes it official.

This is federal land from which the public has been barred by a county ordinance. About 15 people have been arrested for trespassing on the east side of the lake in the last 12 years.

A strong case can be made for keeping any kind of permanent development off the east side. The area is covered with fragile native grasses and small oaks and the curiously folded ridge behind it frames the lake beautifully and sets its character.

Yet the only use allowed on it is grazing by three private lessees, Herbert Gunn, a member of the Park Commission, the Procter and Gamble Company which owns 13,000 adjoining acres, and Jose DelSante.

Ed Bernard, a Napa County supervisor from St. Helena, remarks that the Bureau of Reclamation made some “odd compromises with the property owners on the east side.”

The park service’s report says, “Appropriate uses (for the east side) include shoreline fishing access and grazing (the latter at least until such time as minor development is warranted or the pollution from cattle wastes reaches a point at which it becomes unacceptable.)

Gil Yates, the park director, points out that a serious fire hazard exists on the east side in the summer. But he is more concerned about the problem of policing it. For the 10 years the county has run things at the lake, the same five rangers, using four boats, have had responsibility for the entire area.

Under present financing there is no prospect of beefing up Yates’ thinly stretched ranger force, so his concerns are understandable. It’s easier just to keep people off the east side, which is probably 60 miles long or more, counting all the coves and inlets.

It’s a rather uncomfortable place in the afternoon summer sun anyway, with temperature often topping 100. In the winter, however, when fishermen are the main users, they can’t see why they should be kept off when cattle aren’t.

Yates is a one-time owner of the Berryessa Marina, which he sold in 1966. He denies one published report that suggested he might still retain an interest in it. He states flatly that he doesn’t.

On the west side where all the uproar centers, there is as much complaining about what the county hasn’t done as there is about the space the resort owners have taken up.

A 25-mile drive from the dam to the Fill, a popular fishing area at the north end, won’t bring you to a picnic table. The only toilets are two pairs at “Bum’s Beach,” the largest continuous stretch of public access on the west side.

All the trash cans have been provided by a beer company, although the county does spot burlap sacks at intervals on trees and picks them up periodically with the garbage boat.

Among dozens of fishermen this reporter spoke with up and down the west side the main complaints were the lack of access to the choicest areas and the high cost of getting a boat in the water. This is what made bank fishermen of them. There are enough good spots between the resorts to catch fish.

They complain about everything except the fishing, which is fabulous. Bass, rainbow trout, silver salmon, and crappies teem in the lake. If it’s polluted they’re lapping it up. And they grow big. None of them believe the lake is polluted, except perhaps near the docks. “I drink the water right out of the lake when I’m out in my boat,” said Merle Lear of Fairfield, a vehicle inspector for the state.

All but one of the anglers favored the plan for a National Recreation Area. They came from throughout the Bay Area and from as far away as Long Beach.

Boating and launching fees were often mentioned. It can cost up to $8.50 to get your boat in the water if you’re a first time visitor. The county’s annual sticker costs $5 and resorts usually charge $3 for a launch.

“The only thing that matters to the people up here is money,” said Bill Vaughn of Fremont, who had two nice silver salmon on a stringer near the Berryessa Marina. He said he only went there in winter.

His companion, Henry Reager of Newark, said he wasn’t sure if the proposed federal takeover would help. “I’d like the specifics of what they’ve got in mind, first.”

H. D. Lalonde of Napa, who had just landed a four-pound rainbow at The Fill said: “Absolutely not! If we’re going to turn everything over to Uncle Sam we’re in trouble.” But like many of the others he felt there should be public boat ramps outside the resorts.

The Park Service’s report maintained, and the complaints bear it out, that the resorts have not provided enough facilities for day use, such as picnic areas, and for transient use by overnight campers. This was all supposed to be part of the deal, according to the lease arrangement.

They have given over more and more space to the lucrative “mobile home” developments and the county has apparently gone along.

The trouble has been that mobile homes have tended to become semi-permanent second homes on plots of federal lakefront, with private docks.

The operators defend the practice:

“Many people take the position that they are entitled to use the lake in this way (mobile homes) rather than to camp, so long as their use is proportionately representative of the total public use required ot be served by this regional facility.

“Economic experience with mobile homes assures certain revenues which help overcome operating losses inherent in such seasonally oriented businesses…,” one of their written statements says/

The biggest part of the difficulty, the operators and the county maintain, is that the resorts have been laboring under a 90-day termination clause in their leases which makes it impossible to borrow money for improvements.

If this was removed - and they’ve been trying to have it stricken for some years - they would be able to “develop to ultimate standards” inside their own areas and provide the kind of facilities the public wants.

This would supposedly mean an increase in the return to the county from the 3 percent possessory interest tax which the operators pay on their gross. The county then would supposedly have the wherewithal for better facilities outside the resorts.

Don McFarland, manager of Steele Park Resort and member of the County Planning Commission, said that in the spring of 1970 the owners had expected to get a new contract in which the 90-day clause would be thrown out, but it fell through.

Then the Bureau of Reclamation slapped the moratorium on the area and all bets were off until the Park Service plan was finished.

Meanwhile the county worked up its own plan, issued in June, which called for more of the same with the 90-day clause out.

When the Park Service dropped its bombshell, the county still continued to stand behind the operators, claiming the “private enterprise” can provide the needed improvements if given a chance.

The county boasts the “not a nickel of outside tax money” has ever gone into Berryessa. The county ran things on $165,000 last year from possessory interet taxes and boat stickers.

Why does the county want to continue to run Berryessa when it’s turned into such a headache?

“Some counties would say, ‘Let the U.S. Government do it’ Haberger says, “But that’s the erosion of local government and we don’t want ours eroded.

“No gimmicks and no payoffs…we just think we’re the ones to be in charge.”

“It’s a lousy plan. It’s ridiculous.” He says of the Park Service’s report.

He and the operators tale particular aim at the “optimum use” figure of nine million persons annually which the plan projects. About 1.8 million people use the lake now, and they believe that’s about where it should be kept.

Tent camping is not one of the uses Berryessa lends itself to at least in summer when the temperatures are hot. Haberger maintains that the main attraction is Berryessa’s superiority as a boating lake, something the Park Service plan fails to recognize.

He also objects strongly to the suggestion that the lake is polluted. The county hired a sanitarian for $5,000 to make a comprehensive study which showed that it wasn’t.

Most of the users and the fish agree with him, although most of the resorts use a rather primitive ponding system for sewage which depends on evaporation.

County Planning Director, Jim Hickey, former planning chief for the Association of Bay Area Governments said:

“The idea that Napa County is tearing up Lake Berryessa is false. The Bureau of Reclamation knows what’s been going on and everything that’s been done has the BOR signature on it.

“Some are saying that we’re incompetent because we are local and can’t see the regional significance of the area. But we’re not stupid…if we had the money we’d do it but we haven’t got dollar one and won’t have until the 90-day clause is dropped.”

So the county finds itself in the position of fighting to keep control of a lake whose creation it also fought because it meant the loss of prime agricultural land.

Much of the trouble at Lake Berryessa can be traced to a time in 1967 when the Park Service, doing its original study for the Bureau of Reclamation, came to the conclusion that because of the steep sides of the lake and the large annual drawdown, the lake had no significant national recreation significance and recommended that a regional or state agency take over.

The service is saying now that it was wrong, and should have done the job itself.

But nothing is free, even in National Recreation Areas, although it will undoubtedly be cheaper.

Ed McWhorter, a Napa fisherman, complains that, “Taxes built this lake and we’re restricted.”

Hickey observes, probably correctly, that, “Maybe they’d be happier giving their money to someone in a ranger hat.”


pkilkus@gmail.com                       © Peter Kilkus 2017