This Unholy Mess


An Open Letter to Representative Mike Thompson

I took an opportunity to write to our congressman about good old-fashioned corruption taking root here in Napa County government. The closer I looked at the story, the uglier it got…

Dear Representative Thompson—
Along with so many other Napa County citizens, I have been very appreciative of the work you’ve done both in Washington–on issues like the environment, health care, and gun violence prevention–and locally, in your tireless support of businesses and social service organizations of every stripe. I have voted for you in every election since you began serving in the House in 1998.
This makes it all the more awkward and distressing to consider your public posture regarding the campaign to recall Supervisor Alfredo Pedroza. That posture was described in a letter appearing in the Napa Register (September 7) above your name and those of Senator Dodd and Assembly Member Aguiar-Curry. It is disturbing on three counts.
First, it gave weight to the canard that recall campaigns were being launched against both Supervisors Belia Ramos and Pedroza. This was, and is, false. Your letter’s wording obscured the issue, to be sure: “…groups are ramping up efforts to pursue the recall of two of the members of the Napa County Board of Supervisors, Alfredo Pedroza and Belia Ramos.” And The Napa Register, while not endorsing the falsehood, still saw fit to link them in the headline of the September 7th paper: “Supervisors Ramos, Pedroza See Recall Threats.”
In fact, no one has come forward to claim membership in the group supposedly working to recall Supervisor Ramos, “Citizens for Napa County Government Accountability.” No one seems able to verify even the existence of the group, nor to further identify a Ms. Teresa Carrillo, its supposed spokesperson.
Was this just an attempt to dilute the impact of the very real campaign to recall Mr. Pedroza, a campaign officially acknowledged by the County Registrar and now collecting signatures? Or does it possibly involve something considerably uglier: an attempt to make the two recalls appear to be an issue of racism? This is repulsive, of course. The very suggestion obliges me to repeat: The recall has nothing to do with race. It has to do with standards of good governance, and Mr. Pedroza’s failure to adhere to them. Period. Napa County citizens have the right to demand integrity, honesty, and transparency from their elected officials, whatever their ethnicity or race.
Secondly, your letter is disturbing in its emphasis on cost. Is stopping corrupt behavior too costly? It is notable that a new law taking effect in January, 2023, makes recall elections less expensive because they won’t include a ballot to choose a successor, but only an up-or-down vote on the recall question. Costs are estimated at $150,000 to $175,000–not light years away from the $110,000 cost of the ridiculous overkill investigation launched by the Board of Supervisors regarding the relatively trifling issue of an excess, end-of-day COVID vaccination received by Supervisor Ramos in January, 2021. How extraordinary that there should be an objection to the cost of identifying and rooting out Mr. Pedroza’s abuse of his office.
Thirdly, and most disturbing, your letter says nothing whatsoever about Mr. Pedroza’s specific actions, the driver of the recall. The recall is not about his family, his parents’ history, or anything other than his activities surrounding the Walt Ranch project. Your letter asks, “Has [his] conduct in office warranted such an action?”
Good question. One which, unfortunately, you do not answer. So the message to you is: The citizens of Napa County need to hear from you. We need to hear from you as a leader, a justifiably respected and influential official whose voice carries great weight in the life of our community. You’re someone who can help clarify whether Supervisor Pedroza’s actions merit a recall or not.
Was it acceptable that he used his Board vote to advance a major, environmentally-sensitive development project, owned by his largest campaign contributor? And was it acceptable to acquire, for his family’s financial benefit, a huge property adjacent to that Walt Ranch project, purchased from another of his largest campaign contributors at just a bit more than half of its appraised value? Was it acceptable to do all this without disclosing any of it, all the while voting to advance the Walt Ranch project? We know he misrepresented the timeline of events surrounding the purchase of his parcels, but is that just a sideline, something to be expected of a public figure under pressure? Is this the new norm?
It would be hugely beneficial to have you offer us your views, not in generalities, but addressing the specific issues listed above. It’s hard to overstate the importance of your speaking out now, even if it is to tell us that Mr. Pedroza’s activities do not merit recall. At least then the air will be clear. Should you say nothing, it leaves the whole community uneasy, confused, and ethically diminished.