Milestone Achieved! A Positive Report on the Potential Future Rebirth of Lake Berryessa

More than a year since  the Lake Berryessa News began the campaign to give Lake Berryessa management back to Napa County, a major milestone in that campaign has arrived. A 434-page Lake Berryessa marketing report done by Ragatz Realty was just presented to the County and to the Bureau of Reclamation. Reclamation will review and comment on the report by July 3.  Ragatz will formally present this report at the Aug. 1 Board of Supervisors meeting.

But first a bit of historical background for context. For a detailed timeline see

Monticello Dam was finished in 1958 and Lake Berryessa filled. By the end of 1959, Napa County had awarded seven long-term (30 year) concession agreements to newly formed resorts to provide recreation services. Leased mobile home sites provide revenue needed to support short-term uses such as camping and launching.

But in 1975, after years of fruitless discussion and debate with Reclamation regarding the Lake Berryessa management agreement, Napa County turned lake recreation management back to Reclamation.

In 2000 the Bureau of  Reclamation began a to develop a Visitor Services Plan to redevelop the lake. Their primary goal was to remove all mobile homes from the lake while replacing the existing resort owners with a single company to run all the resorts. Reclamation’s search for concessionaires to redevelop and run the resorts still remains stalled after several false starts during the last 10 years.

Reclamation adopted a 2006 Record of Decision followed by a Bid Prospectus to renovate the resorts with new marinas, lodges, campgrounds, restaurants and other features. In 2009, the agency received $4.4 million in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act money which was, unfortunately, only used to demolish the existing resort infrastructure rather than provide any improvements to facilities. Millions of dollars in functional facilities were simply demolished.

Two bid prospectus attempts finally resulted in a contract with Pensus in 2010 which ultimately failed. A third bid prospectus received no bids by the end of 2016.

In February, 2016, the Lake Berryessa News and Lake Berryessa Chamber of Commerce began a Renaissance Lake Berryessa campaign aimed at returning management of Lake Berryessa to Napa County. They actively campaigned for this goal during the following months.

In June, 2016 Napa County Supervisors directed staff to enter into negotiations for a Managing Partner Agreement between the County and Reclamation for the management of Lake Berryessa.

By January, 2017 discussions between Napa County and Reclamation had proceeded positively enough to result in the supervisors directing staff to sign a Memorandum of Understanding with Reclamation and also a contract with Ragatz Sedgwick Realty who would assist the County in identifying interested concession partners by marketing the opportunity to the resort community and performing a feasibility analysis to determine the best use of each site.

There are several benefits with county management of the resorts. The county has more flexibility than Reclamation. For example, instead of issuing a request for proposals and waiting for potential concessionaires to respond, the county can market the Berryessa opportunity to resort companies. About 300 companies worldwide do this type of resort development. Some may not want to work with the federal government.

A key piece of information could be known by the end of the June. The county wants to offer 55-year contracts to run resorts, but needs permission from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation for this longer-than-usual time frame. The Bureau of Reclamation offered 30-year contracts when it sought new Lake Berryessa concessionaires. At the end of the contracts, the marinas, parking lots, water systems and other infrastructure installed by the companies would be owned by the federal government. This requirement and the short contract term were the “poison pills” that discouraged interest from large resort companies. In a modest change to policy, Reclamation just signed a contract with Markley Cove Resort for a 30 year contract, but with a possible 10 year extension for a total of 40 years.

In January, Richard Ragatz and his colleagues began touring the closed resorts, gathering information, and meeting with, among others, the Bureau of Reclamation, Visit Napa Valley staff, and members of the Board of Directors of the Lake Berryessa Chamber of Commerce. A survey of more than 3,000 people in the region found that 92 percent are interested in visiting Lake Berryessa, if it has the right facilities.

Supervisor Alfredo Pedroza, who has consistently approached this process with a positive outlook, sees the county making progress. “I think this is an exciting time for Lake Berryessa,” Pedroza said. Other supervisors have been supportive.

In an interesting bit of historical turnaround, John Tuteur, Napa County’s Assessor and Registrar of Voters, who was a Napa Supervisor in 1975, told the County supervisors at their June 20th meeting that one of his platforms when he successfully ran for the Board of Supervisors in 1972 was to end county management of Berryessa resorts. But 45 years later Tuteur said circumstances have changed. With the professional assistance of Visit Napa Valley, Napa County has a better grasp on the importance, management requirements, and effects of tourism.

“I think the county can do a superb job in helping to run the resorts,” Tuteur told the supervisors.

The five recreation areas the county could manage are Berryessa Point (previously Berryessa Marina), Monticello Shores (previously Rancho Monticello), Putah Canyon (previously Putah Creek), Spanish Flat and Steele Canyon (previously Steele Park). Of these, Berryessa Point and Monticello Shores are closed and the other three are operated in stripped-down versions under interim contracts. Pleasure Cove Marina and Markley Cove Marina, two of the smallest of the smallest of the previous seven, are operating at full strength under formal contracts with Reclamation.

The following table shows the economic loss to the local and extended Lake Berryessa community. Much of the revenue went to employees and local suppliers of goods and services. The appraised value was stupidly driven to zero by Reclamation’s decision to demolish all operational facilities. Having to start all over with multi-million dollar investments to redevelop the resorts has been a major, and unnecessary (too late now), stumbling block to recruiting potential recreation companies.

 The practical implications for the Berryessa Highlands, for example, of the rebirth of the Lake Berryessa as premier recreation destination are profound. How about a thriving Corners bar, restaurant, store? How about a fully functioning Steele Canyon marina with gas and a couple of hundred boat slips - and a good restaurant with a dynamite view - within 5 minutes of your home? How about at least one functioning gas station? Steele Park had 50 full-time employees. How about 600 new local jobs around the lake? That was a Pensus planning estimate. How about increasing property values to homeowners?

As this process unfolds the Lake Berryessa News and Lake Berryessa Chamber of Commerce sincerely ask Napa residents to encourage their supervisors to support a Renaissance Lake Berryessa.                       © Peter Kilkus 2020