After the electrifying news that Craig and Kathryn Hall have struck a tentative deal with the Napa Land Trust, allowing the trust the opportunity to buy the entire acreage of the infamous Walt Ranch, it is only right to take a moment to celebrate all the benefits that Napa County and its residents will derive from this deal. Not least among them is the preservation of Milliken Reservoir, a major source of water for the city of Napa, one that has been struggling to survive algae bloom caused in substantial part by nutrient-rich runoff from vineyard fertilizers.
But this extraordinary deal suggests something else: a possible way forward for Supervisor Alfredo Pedroza to win back the confidence of Napa County residents and establish himself as a true public servant. He now has a model for dispelling his image as a politician who has put the financial enrichment of his family before the good of the county he represents, which would be to strike his own agreement with the Land Trust, allowing it to purchase the 400-acre parcel he purchased in 2021 from a campaign donor at a sweetheart price. Since that land, which he has dubbed Vinedos AP LLC, is immediately adjacent to Walt Ranch, it would form a single, even larger preserve which could be enjoyed by Napa County residents and visitors for generations.
No doubt this would require courage and service-minded generosity from Mr. Pedroza, and it is not a given that he would demonstrate those qualities. But he should be encouraged to do so for the good of the community.
Make no mistake: If he does not take that course of action, it is unlikely that he will be held accountable for his grossly unethical behavior regarding both Walt Ranch and Vinedos. Barring the success of the ongoing campaign to recall him from office—a very complicated and difficult process—there is no other serious oversight mechanism on the horizon.
Those who might have argued that the “investigation” initiated by California’s Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) would ultimately shed light on Mr. Pedroza’s malfeasance have since had to confront the reality of that agency’s disarray, detailed for Register readers in two excellent letters to the editor, from David Aten (Dec 28) and Marie Dolcini (Jan 5).
The idea that the Board of Supervisors might itself initiate an independent inquiry would normally be the best option of all, but that is unlikely because the Board members, figuring that the FPPC was giving them the fig leaf they needed to avoid action, have remained silent throughout 2022. Not the response of officials who are dedicated to transparency and determined to clear the air.
A sadly ironic sidebar I have mentioned previously is that the Board had no trouble initiating an investigation of an end-of-day COVID shot (a dose that would have gone to waste otherwise) received by Supervisor Belia Ramos in January of 2021, paying over $100,000 of taxpayer money for the services of an Oakland law firm. Yet when Supervisor Pedroza’s much more serious, glaring malfeasance came to light in February of 2022, the supervisors were mum about an independent inquiry.
The reason for the Board’s awkward silence about launching its own investigation is pretty clear, and it’s probably the most damaging aspect of the entire Walt Ranch/Vinedos affair: Mr. Pedroza’s influence, one way or another, will drag down the rest of the supervisors. They have no good choices when confronted with his brazen lack of ethics. What are they to do? They can’t very well call him out, demanding an investigation. That would launch a civil war within the Board, an act that will firebomb their necessarily collegial work for the foreseeable future. But if they are silent (as they have been), then they become complicit in his betrayal of his oath of office. It is reasonable to ask if even our two newest supervisors, Anne Cottrell and Joelle Gallagher—exceptional public servants both—will be swept up, implicated in Supervisor Pedroza’s mess.
Whatever is to come in 2023, unless he acts to jettison the 400-acre land parcel, it is certain that the acquisition of that land for his family, and his votes on Walt Ranch, will remain as stark reminders of Mr. Pedroza’s perfidy, stretching into the future.