“There also were environmental protection issues, such as proposals from those desiring to eliminate internal combustion engines and jet skis, as well as alleged pollution concerns along with not having adequate police enforcement,” Kilkus said.
More recently, a potential barrier to development arose around the bureau’s insistence on sticking to the maximum 30-year lease policy even with extensions, which some thought was not long enough to recoup their investments.
Kilkus said Napa County, under the new agreement, does not have to follow federal rules limiting contracts to three decades and could extend the lease period up to 55 years.
“When you extend the lease term this long, big businesses are more willing to bid. We want to see firms get involved by the summer of 2021,” he said.
The new agreement, allows subcontractors to provide services within concession areas. Prior concession lease holders had to provide all services through their employees and could not bring in subcontractors.
A $5 million fund has been established that will be allocated over five years to cover transition costs associated with the agreement. Funding may also be available for services provided by the county sheriff at the lake, said Kilkus.
A busy summer
A handful of resort operators within the Bureau of Reclamation’s jurisdiction continue to provide services on the west side of Berryessa including Markley Cove, run by Linda Frazier and her husband, as well as Pleasure Cove managed by Terry Sparkman.
Lake Berryessa has a number of bureau recreation areas along its 165 miles of shoreline offering visitors day use (for $5) and lakeside campgrounds dominated by tent campers, self-contained RVs and trailers.
On July 17, most of these facilities were full to overflowing. Local eateries were packed with weekend warriors seeking outdoor experiences following months of shelter-in-place confinement. This year-round destination is known for its water sports, fishing and beautiful, national park-like vistas.
However, locals and most business owners say additional amenities and accommodations are sorely needed. Unlike the past, today there are no motels and cabins. The wish list also includes electric vehicle charging facilities, fire stations, non-grocery retail shops, schools, libraries and gas stations. Today, the nearest filling stations are 22 miles away in Napa and 30 miles in Winters. The nearest fire stations are in Pope Valley and in the Steele Canyon area.
There are only two housing developments near the lake, one at Berryessa Pines near Putah Creek, and the other at Berryessa Highlands. Some 1,500 permanent residents live in the lake region.
When concession lease holders within the bureau’s jurisdiction boundary have left, or when leases expired, buildings were demolished along with related infrastructure facilities. Beyond the bureau boundary, property is available for private development and ownership.
One enduring business, the Turtle Rock Bar & Café operated by Pete Leung for 40 years on land he owns, regularly sees his parking lot packed with 30 cars, trucks and boat trailers at the southern end of the lake.
“The future is promising with opportunities for development, and property prices are going up,” said Leung, known for his famous egg rolls. “There is money to be made here if the county is willing to entertain new ideas, but we need to get resorts developed, new lodging, more restaurants, shower facilities as well as water and sewer infrastructure to support them.”
Gusberti of Cucina Italiana hopes the new county–bureau partnership will result in positive change and growth.
“Many non-campers would enjoy staying here for several days, or longer, if the right accommodations were in place,” Gusberti said.
He believes motels and cabins can increase holding time for guests, support repeat business and increase local revenue — as well as contribute to healthy year-around occupancy rates.
Marcia Ritz, proprietor of the Spanish Flat General Store, has been struggling to keep her business open for the past 13 years, she recalled that back then the bureau closed the lake to former lease holders, dissolved concession contracts and reduced new lease periods to 30 years with the possibility of extensions.
“Prior to that we had cabins,” Ritz said. “Today our summer business is brisk but declines in fall and winter except for fishing. People tired of sheltering in place have been coming here in numbers since March — our best year so far in over a decade. Typically, our season is from June to Labor Day, yet people say they would be willing to rent cabins just to get away, even in cooler months.”