This Unholy Mess


Napa: Ignoring Corruption Doesn’t Make It Disappear

The column written by Register Executive Editor Dan Evans, “Napa County’s Recall-o-Rama” (April 2nd), was fascinating, revealing as it did the strange details of the aftermath of the unsuccessful campaign to recall Supervisor Alfredo Pedroza. It recounted at length the detailed steps taken to account for the signed recall petitions that had apparently been destroyed by those heading up the effort. It chronicled the efforts of Registrar of Voters, John Tuteur, to recover the petitions, which included contacting 36 proponents of the recall, each of which was asked to answer questions about what they knew of the destruction of the petitions.
Though I was in favor of the recall, I felt the column was a valuable effort to inform Register readers of events involving local government that they would not otherwise have access to.
I was disappointed, however, to read some of the statements made, mostly toward the conclusion of the column, statements either not borne out by facts, or misleading. Among them are:
Several times Mr. Evans mentions that the 400-acre property adjacent to Walt Ranch, now known as Vinedos AP LLC, was purchased by Mr. Pedroza’s “in-laws.” We know this cannot be entirely true, since Pedroza put up his home as collateral for the purchase, received all key documents for the sale at his home address, and signed property tax checks well after he claimed to have nothing further to do with Vinedos.
There are plenty of unknowns in this story, certainly. It would be interesting, for example, to talk to Peter Read, who sold the land to the LLC, asking him who approached him about the possible sale. Or did he approach Mr. Pedroza, or his father-in-law, Esteban Llamas? Also: How did he arrive at the sales price, notably lower than the parcel’s appraised value? Was he not aware that this lower price constituted a substantial financial gift to a county supervisor? What was his intention?
There are questions for Esteban Llamas, too. Did he initiate discussion of the possible land purchase from Peter Read? How did the LLC come into being, and how familiar is he with its workings, as the corporation’s manager and only listed principal? Since it is an “AP” LLC (AP standing for Authorized Persons), it is reasonable to ask who the other corporate Authorized Persons are. The California Secretary of State doesn’t require these to be made public, but the question is certainly cogent, given the messy mixture of political power and business dealings here. Are there other members of the LLC?
Further, Mr. Evans suggests that the Register’s letters page might soon be full of “dueling portraits of Pedroza, either touting his accomplishments or castigating his failures—real or imagined.” If history is any guide, those who favor Pedroza would not in any way address the issues that led to the recall effort, there apparently being too many uncomfortable facts involved, but instead insist that he is a nice guy, hardworking, etc. Those who oppose him have no interest in talking about anything other than his unethical behavior surrounding both the Walt Ranch and Vinedos histories.
Perhaps most disturbing is Mr. Evans’s assertion that the specific issue of Walt Ranch is now moot, since the development project was finally approved by the Board of Supervisors without Mr. Pedroza’s vote. This is much like saying that though he was in on three or four bank robberies in the past, because he sat out the most recent heist, he’s in the clear.
The fact that the Walt Ranch property is now in contract to be purchased by the Napa Land Trust also does not alter the history of Mr. Pedroza’s votes to approve the project, owned by his largest campaign donor. In fact, according to a new California conflict of interest law (SB1439) which took effect on January 1 of this year, Mr. Pedroza’s actions would have been plainly illegal. The only thing that saves him from prosecution is the fact that the law is not retroactive. In reporting about the new law on January 20th, the Napa Register queried him about it, and he continued to deny any conflict. His actual words are revealing (read: not revealing): “You run for office to make a difference in the community you’re part of. I’m raising my kids here.”
This comment is all too typical of the frenzy of deflection and non-sequitur which these issues trigger in him. It is embarrassing on the face of it.
The last sentence in the column is also disturbing. “As to whether there ever was a conflict at all, we will just have to wait for the excruciatingly slow wheels of the FPPC to turn.”
That might be true, I guess—if we can somehow manage to ignore the facts that are right in front of us.

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