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Broken Promises

Author: Kate King, ACE
June, 2008 Issue

    Is it any wonder the average citizen doesn’t trust the government? Countless times, the public has been the victim of broken promises, delaying tactics, misinformation and frequent excuses. No, I’m not referring to elections and current candidates, I’m talking about a whole county being taken advantage of by our federal and state officials.

    Several years ago, voters in Napa County agreed to tax themselves to fix an ongoing problem—the flooding of their communities. Thousands of hours went into working on the solution. Negotiations with state and federal officials led to agreements. Residents and professionals devised the best way to realign the Napa River, restore wetlands and stop the economic devastation of Napa’s downtown flooding on a regular basis.

    A substantial part of this plan depended on both the State of California and the federal government “matching” funds contributed by the local sales tax measure. By paying the Army Corp of Engineers (the only people authorized to do much of this work), the federal government became Napa County’s partner in this project, as did the state when it agreed to bear part of the cost with subvention funds.

    But then the delaying tactics began. What was a 7-year project, the Napa Flood Protection Project, is now projected to be a 14-year project—and that’s an optimistic assumption based on the project receiving at least $15 million annually. Current work on the project, the relocation of train tracks and a bridge, is anticipated to cost $39 to $44 million and is projected to take two to three years to complete. The request by the Army Corps of Engineers to the White House for the coming fiscal year was $22.8 million, of which $21 million was slated for this endeavor.  The remainder will be used to complete the Napa Creek/Oxbow design and to fund the revegetation of areas within the marsh plain terraces from Imola to Third Street. The President’s budget recommended only $7.4 million—a far cry from the request. This is a repeat performance for the Flood Control Project, which has received less than 30 percent of the requested amount each year going to back to 2002.

    The longer this goes on, the higher the cost. The delays result in not only higher material and construction costs, but also in delays in bringing more private investment, jobs and revenue to our towns, the State of California and ultimately the United States. This project is paramount to many within our business community.  A lot is riding on the completion of the Napa Flood Protection Project, most significantly the economic viability of the City of Napa. Both existing and future development are intrinsically tied to this project.

    Recently, several elected officials from Napa County visited Washington, D.C. to lobby for more funding than the President’s current budget recommendation. Meanwhile, senators and congress members are “porking up” bills for a number of pet projects throughout the United States. In our view, the completion of a flood control project that can end the life threatening episodes of flooding in Napa is a higher priority—and should be considered as such by those who hold the purse strings in Washington.

    Do these trips help? Maybe. But in the Napa Chamber’s view, there’s more to be done than an annual or bi-annual trip to Washington by politicians to say the same old thing to other politicians. It’s going to take a rising level of personal requests from the residents of Napa County in the form of letters, emails and calls to each and every one of our representatives. We have to let them know this is not just a case of whining.

    This is a case of leaving people in the path of destruction and economic devastation. And who can tell that story better than those who’ve experienced it over and over? No one. Not an elected official and certainly not a lobbyist. Only the single mother who lost her home and her two children’s belongings  (Shontaine Brayton, a true story of pain and loss). Only a business person who laid out cash up front for an entertainer and a room full of dinner fixings but was forced to close on what was to be her big money maker—the financial loss was so devastating, she had to close her business (Liz Ratliff, DG’s Nightclub, a true story). Only a homeowner who’s faced multiple years of fear and frustration watching her home flood repeatedly because of a creek that refuses to stay in its banks (Linda Kerr, true story). I could go on and on, but the point is, these people’s lives are affected over and over. And yet, who’s hearing their stories?

    Residents of Napa County: It’s time to speak up! Write your letters to Congressman Mike Thompson, Senators Barbara Boxer and Diane Feinstein as well as to President Bush. Tell them you want the agreed-upon funding to come to our community.

    No more broken promises and excuses. Mr. Bush, pay up!

Kate King is president and CEO of the Napa Chamber of Commerce. You can reach her at


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