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Supervisors want more info before supporting sign move

Plans to relocate an iconic “Welcome to Napa Valley” sign could be delayed after Napa County supervisors requested more information about the proposal.

At issue are concerns from owners of properties near where the sign would be placed, on Highway 29 just north of Yountville, near a planned segment of the Vine Trail bike and pedestrian pathway.

Given the large number of tourists the sign attracts each year, supervisors want to get input from those who could be impacted by the move, said Napa County Public Works Director Steven Lederer. 

The southern “Welcome to Napa Valley” sign was installed in 1949 by a group of local vintners with permission from Robert Mondavi. The sign is located on vineyard property south of Mondavi’s namesake winery in Oakville, on the west side of Highway 29. There is an identical sign at the northern end of Napa Valley, just south of Calistoga.

With four to five million people visiting Napa Valley every year, the signs have become popular photo spots. To reach the southern sign, however, visitors often stop on the opposite side of Highway 29, cross the busy thoroughfare and then the Napa Valley Wine Train tracks to get their photos.

The Vine Trail Coalition and Napa Valley Vintners, which owns the sign, had requested letters of support from various agencies, including the supervisors, for their joint effort to move the sign. Although an exact spot has not been secured, a staff report prepared for Tuesday's supervisors’ meeting identified “the best location” for the sign as the Caltrans staging area along Highway 29 at Washington Street in Yountville.

In that report, Lederer wrote that relocation of the sign will improve safety conditions for tourists while maintaining “a beautiful background vista that reflects our world-class wine growing region.”

Having the sign at the proposed spot near Yountville, he said, “will also be a valued amenity to the Vine Trail, making it a photo-destination for bicyclists and pedestrians” using the trail.

Both the Napa Valley Vintners, which represents more than 500 wineries in Napa County, and Visit Napa Valley, representing over 90 percent of the hotels in the valley, have endorsed the move, as has the Town of Yountville in a Jan. 3 letter to Caltrans District 4 director Dina El-Tawansy.

According to the staff report, the sign would again be placed on private property, so Caltrans isn’t required to approve the move.

“But all parties desire to work together to improve parking, traffic flow and sharing of the site,” Lederer said in his staff report to supervisors.

The report also stated that involved parties have met several times with Caltrans to discuss the sign-moving project, and Caltrans has suggested several other locations for the sign.

“Really, the final decision-maker will be the person donating the spot to put it on,” said Napa Valley Vine Trail Coalition executive director Shawn Casey-White. “We have talked with Caltrans about the staging area and we’re still in conversations with them, but it’s not the only site that we’re considering. We’re working with vendors and various landowners who have expressed an interest in being a host site, but it’s going to take some time.”

Casey-White said the Vine Trail Coalition is planning a series of public meetings to engage stakeholders, including property owners along the proposed route, and answer questions and receive input on issues around the Yountville-to-St. Helena segment, including the welcome sign.

The non-profit Vine Trail Coalition is building a 47-mile trail from the Vallejo Ferry terminal to Calistoga. A 12.5-mile section of the trail is complete from Kennedy Park in Napa to Madison Street in Yountville, with a nine-mile section from St. Helena to Calistoga and a five-mile section from Vallejo to American Canyon currently under construction.

The Yountville-to-St. Helena section would extend north from the intersection of the Vine Trail and California Drive,  along the west side of Highway 29.