Tag: 2021-03-nn-feature

Pandemic severely impacted taxable retail sales in Napa-Sonoma Wine Country

Pandemic severely impacted taxable retail sales in Napa-Sonoma Wine Country

By John Rau, February 11, 2021

Business operations are the source of considerable taxable retail expenditures and tax revenues to local government agencies. An economic analysis of the Napa/Sonoma wine country trade area for the second and third quarters of 2020 shows that taxable retail sales in the area declined dramatically in several categories as a result of stay-at-home orders and resulting business closures.

Retail sales in Napa County declined 31 percent in the second quarter of 2020 and 15.1 percent in the third quarter relative to 2019. Among cities in the county, Yountville showed the greatest decline, 77.4 percent in the second quarter and 39.1 percent in the third quarter relative to 2019.

Retail sales in Sonoma County declined 16.3 percent in the second quarter of 2020 and 1.5 percent in the third quarter relative to 2019. Among cities in the county, Sonoma showed the greatest decline: 37.2 percent in the second quarter and 21.9 percent in the third quarter relative to 2019.

A 36-year old Anaheim-based economic consulting and taxable retail sales analysis firm recently conducted an analysis of the Napa-Sonoma Wine Country trade area regarding the impacts of pandemic-related closures on taxable retail sales during the first six months following the Governor’s Executive Order and Public Health Order (March 2020) that directed all Californians to stay home except to go to an essential job or to shop for essential needs. That action led to numerous safety measures (such as masks and social distancing) and operational restrictions on business operations that are sources of taxable retail expenditures and tax revenues to local government agencies. Examples of such businesses include retail operations of all types such as restaurants, breweries, wineries, bars, mall and shopping center stores, hotel and lodging facilities, recreational facilities, movie and family entertainment centers, live audience/fan sports facilities, amusement parks, etc.

The Wine Country study utilized the latest data and information provided by the State of California Department of Tax and Fee Administration for calendar years 2019 and 2020, quarters 2 and 3, covering the time periods April through June and July through September, respectively. In the case of calendar year 2020, this represents the first six months following the Governor’s stay-at-home orders and subsequent business operations restrictions. The study’s objective was to look at the same time period in the prior year to identify relative changes and potential impacts.

Recognize that there are many factors that may cause a change in retail sales from one year to the next, but — in light of the actions and procedures taken in the state regarding Covid-19 — it would be reasonable to assume that the pandemic was a major contributor to any sales declines.

Napa County

Comparing calendar year 2019 second quarter taxable retail sales with the 2020 second quarter (April through June), the first full three months of operations after the Governor’s Orders, Napa County taxable retail sales declined from $966.46 million in 2019 to $667.16 million in the same three-month period in 2020, a 31 percent decline. As would be expected, major retail categories were impacted: Food Services and Drinking Places (-63.1 percent), Clothing and Clothing Accessories Stores (-52.2 percent), Gasoline Stations (-48.7 percent), Motors Vehicles and Parts Dealers (-43.9 percent), Home Furnishings and Appliance Stores (-28.6 percent), and Food and Beverage Stores (-26.7 percent).

In terms of cities in the county, Yountville showed the largest decline, 77.4 percent, from 2019 second quarter to 2020 second quarter, and American Canyon showed the lowest decline, 28.1 percent. Collectively, all five cities in the County showed a 39.2 percent decline from $600.48 million taxable retail sales in second quarter 2019 to $364.94 million in second quarter 2020.

In comparing calendar year 2019 third quarter taxable retail sales with the 2020 third quarter (July through September, the second three months of operations after the Governor’s orders), Napa County taxable retail sales declined 15.1 percent from $966.29 million in 2019 to $820.54 million in the same three-month period in 2020. Relative to this second three-month period, the declines in major retail stores categories were: Food Services and Drinking Places (-37.2 percent), Gasoline Stations (-31.1 percent), Clothing and Clothing Accessories Stores (-20.4 percent), and Food and Beverage Stores (-18.9 percent).

In terms of cities in the county, Yountville again showed the largest decline, 39.1 percent from 2019 third quarter to 2020 third quarter, and American Canyon again showed the lowest decline: 5.2 percent over the three-month period in comparing 2019 with 2020. Collectively, all five cities in the county showed a 20.4 percent decline from $574.91 million taxable retail sales in third quarter 2019 to $457.90 million in third quarter 2020.

Sonoma County

Over the three-months April through June, the County taxable retail sales declined from $2,562.24 million in 2019 to $2,144.59 million in 2020, a 16.3 percent decline. Similar to Napa County, impacts in the major retail stores categories were: Clothing and Clothing Accessories Stores (-56.5 percent), Gasoline Stations (-46.8 percent), Food Services and Drinking Places (-46.5 percent), Home Furnishings and Appliance Stores (-29.6 percent), Motor Vehicles and Parts Dealers (-20.9 percent) and General Merchandise Stores (-18.0 percent). Food and Beverage Stores showed a 2.2 percent decline.

As to cities in the county, Sonoma showed the largest decline, 37.2 percent, from $74.09 million in 2019 to $46.52 million in 2020. The Town of Windsor showed the smallest decline at 5.3 percent from $103.69 million in 2019 to $98.20 million in 2020. Collectively, all nine cities in the County showed a decline from $1,791.70 million taxable retail sales in second quarter 2019 to $1,327.02 million in second quarter 2020, a 25.9 percent decline.

For the second three-month period, July through September, after the initial stay at home and business operations restrictions had been in place for three months, Sonoma County taxable retail sales declined from $2,613.93 million in 2019 to $2,574.58 million in the same three-month period in 2020, a 1.5 percent decline. Major retail stores categories impacted were: Food Services and Drinking Places (-28.1 percent), Gasoline Stations (-26.8 percent), Clothing and Clothing Accessories Stores (-23.3 percent), and General Merchandise Stores (-11.5 percent). Food and Beverage Stores actually showed a one percent increase in taxable retail sales.

In terms of cities in the county, Sonoma again showed the largest decline at 21.9 percent, from $76.67 million in 2019 to $57.90 million in 2020. Sebastopol showed the smallest decline at 9.2 percent from $42.72 million in 2019 to $38.79 million in 2020. Collectively, all nine cities in the County showed an 11.9 percent decline from $1,829.66 million in 2019 to $1,612.12 million in the same three-month period in 2020.


In the six months following pandemic-related stay-at-home orders and resulting business closures, taxable retail sales in the Napa-Sonoma Wine Country showed dramatic decreases in several categories at county and city levels. The study and the results presented here attempt to quantify these impacts that are most likely a result of the State’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Other Napa and Sonoma County detailed results are presented in the January 27, 2021 report by Ultra-Research, Inc., which can be obtained by emailing the author.

John Rau is President/CEO of Ultra-Research, Inc., in Anaheim, California, a company he founded in 1985. He holds a master’s degree in mathematics from the University of Washington and a bachelor of applied science in mathematics from UC Riverside. Rau is a member of the Orange County Section of APA California. You can reach him at (714) 281-0150 or ultraresch@cs.com.


Return to Northern News here.

Manga biography celebrates Denise Scott Brown

Manga biography celebrates Denise Scott Brown

“The manga centers on the life and work of Denise Scott Brown, recipient of the 2007 Vilcek Prize in Architecture. ‘Denise Scott Brown is one of the most influential American architects of the twentieth century … a pioneer of postmodernist thinking,’ says Vilcek Foundation President Rick Kinsel. “We are delighted with the way Hiroki [Otsuka, a professional manga artist since 1994,] captured elements of [her] life and work.”

The Vilcek Foundation raises awareness of immigrant contributions in America and fosters appreciation of the arts and sciences.

Scott Brown co-authored Learning From Las Vegas: the Forgotten Symbolism of Architectural Form. Venturi Scott Brown Associates received APA’s National Planning Excellence Award for a Planning Pioneer in 2014. Learn more about Scott Brown’s many projects and awards here.

Read or download the seven-page manga here. 

Return to Northern News here. 

Work through community conflict on climate change by confronting fears

Work through community conflict on climate change by confronting fears

By Geoff Ball and Debbie Mytels, February 15, 2021

A need for community discussions

City planners must work effectively with elected officials and their constituents to create mandated climate action plans. Planners recognize that they must also engage their community to generate support for the local policy proposals that reduce carbon emissions. Reluctance to talk about climate change, however, makes generating community engagement difficult. Like death, religion, and salaries, climate change is so complex and fraught with potential negative feelings that it’s essentially a taboo topic in personal conversations.

Given that you can’t solve a complex problem unless you talk about it, we decided to get people talking. We bring long years of community engagement experience to this effort: Geoff Ball started his work as a conflict resolution facilitator in 1971, and Debbie Mytels knows environmental issues after a long career leading local environmental organizations.

Analyzing why people outside the circle of climate activists were avoiding the topic, we realized there were basically three reasons:

1) Climate change really is a frightening topic. It raises concerns about dying, radical impacts on the lives of our grandchildren, and the destruction of civilization.

2) People perceive it to be controversial. They don’t want to get into arguments with family, neighbors, or co-workers.

3) Climate change is beyond complex. Most people vaguely understand its causes, but they feel deeply inadequate to address it.

Climate scientist Katherine Hayhoe (PhD, atmospheric sciences) addressed this avoidance in her 17-minute 2018 TED talk, “The most important thing you can do about climate change is talk about it.” Taking a cue from her, we designed a series of Community Conversations on Climate Change (CConCC) that can be adapted to meet a range of prior information and abilities to engage. The goal is to help people overcome their avoidance of a frightening topic, reduce conflict in discussing climate change, and explore some possible ways to respond.

Content of the workshops

Our workshops have five basic sections:

1) The “bad news” context. Noting polls that show the majority of Bay Area residents are cognizant of the causes and effects of climate change, we forego extensive discussion of the science involved. Instead, we briefly review why climate change is happening and focus more on its effects, particularly in our Northern California region: drought, fires, smoke. For an audience less familiar with climate science, this section of the workshop would be augmented with additional information. To help people recognize that fears about climate change are normal, we then offer a discussion where people speak in small groups or dyads about their emotional response to the climate crisis: how does it make them feel, personally?

2) The “good news.” To buoy their spirits, this section highlights three ways we are making progress: a) California’s stable per capita emissions since Title 24 standards were passed in the 1970s; b) the nationwide drop in emissions due to efficient LED lightbulbs over the past decade; and c) cost reductions in producing renewable energy which now place it at parity with fossil-fuel generated electricity. Other “good news” can be substituted, depending on the audience and locale.

3) Perspectives. This is a role-playing exercise to demonstrate that conversations about climate change need not be conflict-ridden. In groups of three, participants take a role: speaker, responder, or observer. The speaker reads an opinion about climate change and is asked to adopt it during the exercise. The responder uses “active listening” skills to acknowledge the speaker’s perspective, ask clarifying questions to probe the perspective more fully, and is asked to express their own personal opinion. The observer notes what the responder did to reduce (or possibly increase) conflict with the speaker. After a five-minute role-play, the observer shares what s/he has seen occur. If time permits, we do a second or third round using different written perspectives. All participants then de-brief whether these conversations have been helpful in recognizing that climate change conversations can be cordial and positive, even when people may not agree.

4) Thought experiment. This section addresses the “what can I do?” feeling by giving participants a brief experience in planning a solution to a climate-related problem. One example is to design a one-week mass carpool experiment, asking 15 large Silicon Valley employers to use publicity and incentives to entice their employees to create carpools. Participants work in groups of five with the goal to demonstrate what it would look like to cut commute traffic by 50 percent for one week. They plan how to connect with company executives, develop a publicity plan, break through barriers, create motivational presentations, and document the success of the experiment. Even going through an exercise to imagine such an outlandish change gives people a sense of the possibilities they can attempt. (Ironically, thanks to Covid-19, we have experienced an even larger reduction in commute traffic during the past year, which has shown us all that significant changes in our car culture are indeed possible.)

5) Avenues for action. In this section, we invite leaders from several environmental organizations to give short presentations about their climate protection work. Each speaker shares how volunteers get involved and the focus of their efforts: tree planting, legislative advocacy, land use planning, home energy efficiency education, and more. Afterward, the organizations staff tables around the room where people can chat and sign up for more information. We also distribute an extensive list of such organizations with their websites. Lastly, we offer a personal “action planning” worksheet where people commit to at least one action they will take within a specified time frame to reduce their greenhouse emissions.

Lessons learned

1) Talking about personal experiences is essential. While learning about the annual increase in parts per million of carbon dioxide atop Mauna Loa in Hawaii is an important scientific fact, it is not as meaningful to most people as their recent experiences of storms, floods, forest fires, drought, and unbreathable smoky air. These consequences are the experiences that create the fear of climate change. Rather than blocking such discussion, we want these fears to drive community-building conversations. It’s important for people to talk about them — and discuss what they can do.

2) Assess the audience’s knowledge about climate science. You want to be sure that people understand that it comes from burning fossil fuels along with practices such as deforestation. Some information is needed about how science measures global warming, along with evidence to validate scientific conclusions and disasters predicted by “business as usual” scenarios. Referring people to more information sources is better than barraging them with data. It’s possible to spend less time on the “bad news,” by reminding people of what they already know. Pollsters find that 80 percent of Californians have a basic knowledge of climate change and agree that it is occurring.

3) The climate change topic is too complex for just one workshop. People need time to understand complex information and to practice skills like active listening and nonviolent communication. These skills require sustained learning and involvement over time. We conclude that one good approach is to offer three workshops that build upon each other: 1) Climate 101, including basic climate science, how people experience it personally, and some “good news” of successes in reducing emissions; 2) a session on listening skills followed by authentic (rather than role-playing) conversations among participants; and 3) a session offering solutions that can be undertaken at a personal, community, and national level, with time for participants to discuss them at each level.

4) Isolated people don’t form a coherent, lasting group for action. This is another reason to offer consecutive sessions as a “course.” In order to develop plans for effective action it takes time, and workshop leaders should build in reasons for people to remain engaged. Creating a pleasant social environment that gives people an opportunity to make new friends is an example. Substantial food such as lunch or dinner can also be an inducement. Giving “cliff-hangers” of information (“We’ll talk about saving a lot on your utility bills in the next session.”) can also encourage return participation. Working with established groups that have ongoing relationships may also help.

5) Sharing insights about the power of collective action can create optimism and engender a sense of efficacy. One way to do this is to give out free LED lightbulbs or “smart” power strips. By installing such energy-saving devices at their homes, participants develop an immediate sense of their power to make a difference. Participants may not know that widespread use of LED lighting has now eliminated the need for the “peaker” power plants that used to be fired up at 5:00 pm to provide electricity for turning on lights when everyone comes home. The group can compute the carbon savings if everyone puts their “freebie” lightbulbs to work — and how much more would be saved if every resident in town installed one. This demonstration of an individual’s power within the group gives a lesson that can be extended to other situations.

Conclusion: Community spread and the role of cities

While our workshops have not (yet) fulfilled our “wildest dreams” — to engender a nationwide renunciation of fossil fuels — we feel the sessions contribute to the emerging awareness that climate change is an urgent problem — and that we CAN do something about it. After every community workshop, people take home the experience and talk about it with others the next day:

  • “How was your weekend?”
  • “I went to a workshop on climate change — learned about some of the progress we’re making on carbon emissions. Do you know that electricity from solar is now less expensive than from burning coal?”

Climate change is high on the new Administration’s agenda. More people are taking action. Policies are being created at every level of government.

Cities are the one community-based institution holding responsibility for tending to everyone’s needs, and cities are uniquely positioned to take on the challenge of creating carbon reduction policies that account for the needs of varied stakeholders. Convening conversations about climate change, teaching people about what still can be done to reduce the threat, is now an essential task. Cities can undertake this incredibly important role by bringing their citizens together to address this mutual challenge, developing solutions that serve multiple interests, and creating a future where our children and grandchildren can thrive.

Geoff Ball’s decades-long career has focused on patterns and process — early computer-based pattern recognition at SRI; and then Facilitation and Using Graphics with Groups applied to Multi-party Conflict Resolution and Consensus Building — mostly in Palo Alto, Lake Tahoe, and Northern California, with emphasis on the public sector. He holds a PhD in electrical engineering (pattern recognition) and a BA from Harvard University. You can reach him at geoffhball@gmail.com.

Debbie Mytels recently retired from a long career working on environmental issues where she engaged volunteers in community efforts (such as starting a commercial district recycling project), established a long-running awards program for businesses with innovative sustainability efforts, developed an environmental leadership training program, and launched a home energy-saving project that served thousands of residents in 11 Silicon Valley cities. She has a bachelor’s degree in social psychology from UC Berkeley. You can reach her at debbie.mytels@gmail.com.

Return to Northern News here.

Artist-driven community engagement — and all that jazz!

Artist-driven community engagement — and all that jazz!

By James Rojas, February 12, 2021

Planners often focus their visioning efforts on how infrastructure looks, and rarely ask how a place feels to participants. For many people, how a place feels is as real as brick and mortar. Artists, in particular, bring a heightened level of awareness to their surroundings. However, there are few planning tools to articulate their awareness and experiences with places.

So I was not surprised when Brendan Rawson, Executive Director at San Jose Jazz (SJZ), approached me to facilitate two workshops: First a San Jose Jazz Retreat with board and staff members that involved building memories of sound. The second was part of the public engagement process for the Diridon Station Area planning, which includes one of the largest train stations in California and Google’s proposed Downtown West project. The City of San Jose’s Diridon Program Manager Lori Parks Severino enlisted local community groups to help them develop nuanced approaches to engagement and bring more voices into the conversations, and San Jose Jazz was one of the grant recipients. The focus of this workshop was on public space.

Since I use an art-based tool that helps participants articulate how a space feels — through objects, memories, and their senses — Brendan thought this approach would reflect the mission of his organization, which celebrates jazz as a dynamic, evolving art form.

Build your first memory of sound

At a retreat hosted by San Jose Jazz at the San Jose Mexican Heritage Plaza this past October, I facilitated a hands-on but virtual workshop with board and staff members to explore the role of sound in their lives. The participants — many of them musicians — were asked to take 10 minutes and use everyday objects to build dioramas representing their first memory of sound, then present their sound memories to the group.

Sounds from nature — water flowing, for example — were the most common in many memories. Other sounds signaled activities (e.g., children playing) or defined places, such as city versus rural. Sounds also reinforced social bonds or relationships (siblings fighting) and the making of music (e.g., a church choir).

These sounds helped the participants forge relationships with places and people (belong) at an early age.

Build your ideal public space

The Diridon Station Area Open Space Workshop (Hosted by San Jose Jazz with City of San José support) was held on December 10th.  It gave us a perfect opportunity to experiment with innovative creative engagement tools to connect people to the planning process and influence the outcomes. For San Jose Jazz, public space provides critical inspiration to musicians to produce music and opportunities for the public to listen to it. The workshop gave their organization and community a voice at the table and allowed them to explore their role in shaping the dialogue for public space with musicians, other artists, and community members in general.

This workshop was originally planned to be face-to-face. But due to shelter-in-place orders, we developed a hands-on, virtual workshop to educate, connect, and provide a creative way for a segment of the San Jose community to engage with the planning process. The online workshop consisted of two tasks:

Part 1: Build your favorite childhood memory

Participants were asked to take 10 minutes to build a diorama of their memory. They searched their room for objects that would help evoke it. They then wrote their memories in the chat stream and emailed photos of their work to the breakout room facilitators.

Each person then presented his or her memory to the group, with most presenting the objects that had triggered their memories. The memories fell into three categories:

  • Social: Family, friends, and community.
  • Feelings: Safe, warm, happy, taking ownership of space, historic, and exploration.
  • Places: Outdoors, nature, beaches, and parks.

Everyone participated in the activity. Interestingly, most childhood memories took place outdoors, regardless of where people grew up.

  • Participants’ objects varied. Some were common; others were unique. All were part of their daily lives.
  • Participants spoke with strong conviction about their experiences. Their memories evoked sensory experiences of nature, physical activity, and social cohesion — many of which took place in San Jose and the surrounding area.
  • Their heartfelt childhood memories expressed deep attachment to people, places, and activities, echoing the importance of public open space.
  • The participants explored how cities are the sums of their experiences, setting a congenial tone for the next task.

Part 2: Build your public space

Using everyday objects again, participants were asked to build a diorama representing the sensory experiences of their ideal public space. They then wrote descriptions of their model in the chat stream and emailed a photo to the facilitator. Each person then presented his or her ideal public space in the breakout rooms.

The common themes, values, emotions, and ideal spaces that came out of this activity were art, urban design, history/belonging, nature, variety of uses, intergenerational, and civic pride.

The participants stated various ways public space could enrich the lives of San Jose residents and visitors alike. By incorporating nature, history, art, and activities, public space can be interdisciplinary and enduring, embracing the city’s diversity.

The event ended with a discussion of how their reflections on public space experiences and feelings could help inform planning for the Diridon Station Area.

The value of the process

Online engagement presents challenges in terms of meaningful exchanges and community building. It also has its opportunities, which we learned through the Diridon virtual workshop. First, participants were more than happy to connect virtually. The process created a temporary community of inquiry to explore the meaning, value, and feel of public space from the comfort of the participants’ work or living spaces. The interactive nature of the process helped participants form a deeper connection with each other beyond what a “presentation followed by Q&A” meeting would generate. Staff also participated on a level with community members. That connection helped people open up to reach new depths of insight to inform the planning process.

One of the challenging tasks for workshop facilitators (virtual or in-person) is capturing and translating what was said and what was not. People use metaphors to represent ideas and feelings. The participants came up with public space ideas, solutions, and feelings based on their lived San Jose experiences. They focused on their landscape, issues, and possibilities. They expressed that public space is a critical part of their lives and should be in this project as well, tied as they are — physically, mentally, and emotionally — to place. The participants had a positive experience with community engagement, building a deeper connection with the project team and strengthening their ownership in the process and the outcomes.

Brendan’s takeaway was that workshop participants left with the idea that the Diridon area should be designed with sound in mind: Could the sound of the Guadalupe River be celebrated and amplified, could the wind of the riparian corridor and its birds be celebrated, could the movement in and around the transit center bring dynamism to the district. Sound, such as auditory public art, can be important signals to pull pedestrians into and through public spaces.

For many, Diridon Station will become the new gateway into the region. Participants want to feel welcome, comfortable, and know they are experiencing San Jose. Walking with a heightened sensory experience can produce “destinations within the destination” for all kinds of people to linger, roam, interact, and observe. That experience should build on the area’s natural landscape, its Native American traditions, its agricultural past, and its current tech industry dominance.

I hope the positive experiences with this process will inspire a future engagement for San Jose Jazz and the City of San Jose, for example, using the city’s downtown streets for the annual summer jazz festival.

James Rojas is an urban planner, community outreach specialist, and artist with Place It! He holds an MCP from MIT and a BS in interior design from Woodbury University. You can reach him at jamestrojas@gmail.com.


Return to Northern news here.