Tale of Two Napas

A Tale of Two Napas: 

Growth of the Napa Valley Highlights Stagnation of the Berryessa Valley

According to the Napa Valley Visitor Profile 2018 study, the Napa Valley has been booming economically for many years. Annual visitor volume has risen to 3.85 million visitors in 2018, up 8.9 percent from 3.5 million two years ago.

Day trip visitors are the single the largest component of Napa Valley's visitor volume, comprising 2.4 million visitors, or 62.3 percent of all visitors. The second largest segment of visitors are persons staying in Napa Valley lodging, at 1.2 million visitors. (See chart below.)

Napa visit econ table

Conversely, a Bureau of Reclamation report in 2005 said that Lake Berryessa once had more than 1.5 million visitors annually, with a maximum of 1.8 million. That compares favorably to the Napa Valley’s 3.85 million. But Lake Berryessa’s visitor numbers dropped to only 408,000 in 2014, after the seven existing resorts were closed in 2009 and millions of dollars of existing infrastructure was unnecessarily demolished.


Visitation statistics in 2005 projected that Lake Berryessa visitation could reach more than 2.4 million by the year 2020. But this was dependent on implementing a major redevelopment (not destruction) of recreation facilities.

Visitation History

On June 21, 2016, (Note: That was three years ago!) the Napa County Board of Supervisors directed staff to enter into negotiations for a Managing Partner Agreement between the County and the Bureau of Reclamation.

On December 6, 2016, the Board of Supervisors entered into a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Bureau of Reclamation to gauge the commercial interest in Lake Berryessa and determine if the types and scope of recreation opportunities are of interest to potential developers. Under this MOU, the County, at its own expense and authority, developed a Request for Information/Interest (RFII) in Lake Berryessa concessions.

Also on December 6, 2016 Ragatz Realty was contracted to identify concession opportunities at Lake Berryessa. There was a positive response of nine companies to the RFII and a positive initial report from Ragatz Realty on August 1, 2017. On October 16, 2018, the Board of Supervisors received a report from staff and provided direction on a possible phasing plan.

Now three years later, Napa Valley’s visitors are spending $2.2 BILLION per year supporting 16,000 jobs. The Napa Valley's visitor industry generated $85.08 million in tax revenues for governmental entities in Napa Valley in 2018. 

But the County and the Bureau of Reclamation are still trying to reach a managing partner agreement. They remain apart on such issues as how to share future financial risks during the initial phases of the project.

Supervisors Pedroza and Dillon traveled to Washington, D.C. to talk with BOR officials there and heard all the right things. But the Washington office says the county must make sure the regional office is supportive. The regional office says the county needs to talk with the Washington office. “That process is what gives government a bad name,” Pedroza said. “That level of bureaucracy needs to stop.”

Lake Berryessa resort redevelopment would cost the County money, no matter who leads a successful effort. For example, the County provides law enforcement to the lake area at a cost of $1.4 million annually. More lake visitors would mean more call for services, boosting the county cost to an estimated $1.8 million to $2.5 million annually. Then there are expenses the county would incur if it managed resort redevelopment. County officials estimate the cost at $770,000 annually for a concessions manager, concessions planner and administrative support.

But the potential is there. County income from resort redevelopment would include transient occupancy taxes and sales taxes. If the county leads the effort, it would receive franchise fees from concessionaires. The Ragatz report documented the market possibilities. But county officials fear the franchise fees won’t bring in money for two to five years into the redevelopment effort and are concerned about the time lag for the revitalized resorts to bring in money.

Reclamation proposed to share county losses related to resort management for three years, capped at $100,000 annually. It offered a full-time employee to help the county develop a concessions program and office space until the county can establish space at a resort.

They want Reclamation to consider an initial five-year commitment, equal cost sharing of county concession management costs, further discussion on county law enforcement costs, and further discussion on in-kind services. 

One key issue has been the time period for resort concession contracts. The county wants to offer 55-year contracts with 10-year extensions, saying this would allow concessionaires building infrastructure time to recoup their investments.

So while a thriving economy exists less than 20 miles away in the Napa Valley, a depressed economy is struggling along in the Berryessa Valley. Thankfully, the Napa County Board of Supervisors remain supportive of a Lake Berryessa revival. The irony is that most of the difficult financial issues being faced at Lake Berryessa are the result of the Bureau of Reclamation’s own past management and policy failures. 

But again they refuse to take responsibility for helping repair the damage. As with any bureaucracy, the people most responsible for destroying the Lake Berryessa community have either been promoted or have retired. So who in Reclamation really cares?

The Bureau of Reclamation owes the Lake Berryessa community and Napa County BIG TIME! Three years with no progress is ridiculous. Let's get this done!    

pKilkus@gmail.com                       © Peter Kilkus 2018