mercurynews.com | August 24, 2015 –
That 4.1 earthquake earlier this week may have startled some people awake, but it was a mere tap on the shoulder compared to the great wake-up call of Aug. 24, 2014.
One year ago Monday, many Napa buildings — and plenty of Vallejo chimneys — received the wrath of the 6.0 quake that jolted the region, Northern California’s most devastating shaker since the 1989 Loma Prieta temblor.
“It was very overwhelming,” said Napa Mayor Jill Techel.
And she wasn’t even in Napa at the time, having already checked into a hotel in Monterey for a conference. Moments after the quake, Techel got the call from a visitor from Napa’s Australian sister city staying at the mayor’s house.
“He called at 3:30 and said there was a bad earthquake. I got up and got dressed and started for home,” Techel said, catching the TV news at a coffee shop en route home.
“It was very upsetting,” she said, grateful her children had already cleaned up “lots of broken stuff” at her Napa home.
A year later, Techel said the city and its citizens are recovering.
“Rebuilding has been going well,” she said. “The private side has done an amazing job of getting their buildings repaired and their tenants and businesses are up and open.”
About 95 percent of the downtown businesses have re-opened, including restaurant Carpe Diem last month.
“That was a long time for them to be out of their site, but they were creative and opened a ‘pop-up’ restaurant at Oxbow Market to tide them over,” Techel said.
Still, she noted, there are “challenges for local downtown businesses as we continue to have construction and scaffolding around town.”
Gov. Brown immediately declared a State of Emergency and, three weeks after the quake, President Obama declared the Napa earthquake a major federal disaster. Early estimates by California officials indicated that the earthquake caused about $400 million in damage.
The U.S. Small Business Administration approved $34.5 million in disaster loans to help 995 Napa and Solano counties’ residents and businesses with quake recovery. The bulk went to Napa: $26 million to help 805 homeowners and renters and $6.2 million to 92 businesses for property damage, said Kevin Wynne, the spokesman for the administration’s western office of disaster assistance.
“Especially important,” said Techel, was a $10 million earthquake relief fund established by the Napa Valley Vintners.
Clay Gregory, president and CEO for Visit Napa Valley, said that immediately after the quake hit, “once we were reassured that there was no loss of life and our Visit Napa Valley team and their families were safe, we immediately reached out to each of the town mayors as well as the Napa Valley Vinters, to determine where assistance was needed.”
The primary goal “was to communicate to all media channels that Napa had survived the earthquake and to provide updated status reports,” said Gregory, who worked closely with the state’s tourism board, the San Francisco Travel Association and the U.S. Travel Association.
“We felt grateful and fortunate that most of Napa’s businesses, including the majority of Napa Valley’s nearly 500 wineries, suffered little or no damage,” Gregory said.
Within a week, 90 percent of Napa’s downtown businesses were open for business, Gregory said.
“We were very encouraged by hotels offering to accommodate displaced guests as well those who temporarily displaced hotel workers,” he said. “With many homes damaged, the supportive and collaborative nature of our community shone through.”
If nothing else, the quake seemed to lure more visitors to Napa. In October 2014, total hotel revenue was up by 4.4 percent. In December 2014, hotel revenue was up by nearly 15 percent. In January and February 2015 revenue was up by nearly 25 percent. In March 2015 revenue was up by 15.5 percent. And in April 2015, revenue was up by 13.8 percent.
The key message, said Gregory, was that Napa Valley was open for business and welcoming guests.
“I believe that, initially, there may have been a very small percentage of visitors who were curious to see the damage,” Gregory said. “However, despite the marginal drop in visitation in September last year, Napa Valley had a very successful year in 2014.”
Napa County Distrist Attorney Gary Leiberstein’s office was damaged, though most of his staff moved back earlier this year, said Kristi Jourdan, Napa County public information officer.
The public defender’s office also moved back and Child Services returns this weekend, Jourdan added. The assessor’s office is back Sept. 11 and the elections department returns Oct. 3.
Home to most public services, the Carithers Building at 931 Parkway Mall, suffered mostly water damage, Jourdan said, displacing 400 county employees, including the board of supervisors. The administration building at 1195 Third St. also suffered water damage, collapsed ceilings and walls.
Fortunately, a building had already been purchased before the quake where employees were relocated, Jourdan said.
A section of the Napa County jail was also damaged, forcing the relocation of about 50 inmates to Solano County Jail in Fairfield. Repairs are pending FEMA approval for the Napa jail and county courthouse, Jourdan said.
“We’d like to get these repairs down as quickly as possible. It’s just the process we have to go through,” Jourdan said.
Techel believes the 6.0 quake — with around 60 aftershocks — jolted reality into the town’s residents.
“We hope it changed people’s view of being prepared,” she said. “That is why we are gathering Monday at 3:20 p.m. We want to remind people that being prepared is important.”
Monday’s event includes brief speeches, earthquake preparedness booths, and a young boy injured in the quake.