Gasser Foundation buys embattled Napa site for affordable housing

From a Napa Valley Register article updated on December 3rd, 2016 by Barry Eberling

Gasser Foundation will attempt to overcome stumbling blocks that stymied Bridge Housing Corp. of San Francisco and bring affordable housing to a northeast Napa property.

The Foundation is known for distributing millions of dollars to local nonprofits. It recently bought the former Sunrise Assisted Living of Napa property at 3700 Valle Verde Drive from Bridge for more than $5 million.

“Napa has historically had a severe shortage of low-income and otherwise affordable housing, and we are exploring many ways to address these needs,” Foundation spokesman Joe Fischer said in an email.

Bridge worked for several years with the city of Napa in a failed attempt to create the 57-unit Napa Creekside Apartments on 2.9 acres east of Queen of the Valley Medical Center. It pulled out in February after a lawsuit by neighbors caused delays, and changes to state affordable housing funding policies hurt the financial plan.

Specifics of how Gasser Foundation might approach the project have yet to emerge. Fischer said the nonprofit group will meet with the city of Napa and Napa County to develop plans.

“At this point, we don’t know what it will look like, who will own it, who will operate it or how it will work,” Fischer said.

Gasser Foundation, as part of the transaction, assumed responsibility for a $1.3 million loan made by Napa County out of its affordable housing fund to Bridge for Napa Creekside Apartments. The Napa County Board of Supervisors approved the move on Nov. 22.

Bridge had interested, potential buyers who wanted to use the Sunrise property for market rate housing, said Nancy Johnson, the county’s housing and community development program manager. It sold to Gasser Foundation in hopes the site will eventually have affordable housing.

“We’re really thankful to Bridge,” Johnson said.

Now Gasser Foundation will try to avoid the stumbling blocks faced by Bridge. Neighbors said the Napa Creekside Apartments project would have been too dense and could have hurt fish in adjacent Salvador Creek. In 2014, they won a court decision voiding city approvals.

Bill McGuire is part of the neighborhood coalition that opposed Napa Creekside Apartments. He said he has in his data base the names of about 80 neighbors concerned about the project.

“It was that plan in particular,” McGuire said on Tuesday. “The opposition was not NIMBY, it wasn’t because we are concerned about having low-income in the area … the biggest concern was it was just too dense.”

Napa County used a recent community workshop with neighbors as it begins to plan affordable housing at its former Health and Human Services Agency campus on Old Sonoma Road. McGuire said such an approach would be helpful for the Sunrise property.

“It certainly would help make a much smoother transition to have everyone on the same page,” he said.

Bridge wanted to remodel the vacant, three-story Sunrise Assisted Living building and build a three-story building next to it. Napa Mayor Jill Techel said that, since Gasser has not yet unveiled a proposal for the site, it’s too early to compare and contrast.

“I’m pleased Gasser is looking at ways to help us deal with the shortage of affordable housing,” Techel said.

Gasser Foundation donates $1.5 million to $2 million annually to local nonprofits. Among its most high-profile assets has been a 147-acre legacy property near Imola and Soscol avenues, land that now has such developments as South Napa Century Center.

The Foundation’s past housing development activity has been focused on its legacy land, Fischer said. Still, he said, the Foundation isn’t going in a new direction by buying the Sunrise property, but is responding to what it perceives as a community need.

The Napa City Council in August approved Vista Tulocay Apartments on a 20-acre section of the Gasser Foundation’s legacy property along Soscol Avenue. The development will have nine three-story buildings with 282 rental units and another 201 units possible, but at this point no subsidized apartments are planned.

Fischer said Vista Tulocay shows the Foundation also supports the idea of so-called “market rate” housing that is anticipated to be affordable to the local workforce.

Napa natives Peter and Vernice “Pat” Gasser are the figures behind the Gasser Foundation. Peter Gasser was born in 1905 and died in 1982. He ran a local Dodge dealership, was active in the Chamber of Commerce, had various real estate holdings and was involved in various civic activities.

Vernice Gasser was born in 1900 and died in 1989. The Gasser Foundation was established using $17 million from the Gassers, who had no children.

Read the article on the Napa Valley Register site