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Letter: Pedroza stands to benefit from Walt Ranch

Supervisor Pedroza’s unflagging support of Walt Ranch has always been presumed to be for the benefit of his major donors, Texas billionaires Craig and Kathryn Hall (Walt Ranch, Hall Wines, Vineland Vista, and more) who have contributed more than $42,300 to Pedroza’s political aspirations. His recent decisions as a Supervisor, however, include benefits to Pedroza’s immediate family and likely himself.

By approving Walt Ranch, he helped increase the property value of some 400 acres immediately adjacent to Walt Ranch which are owned, he admitted only when caught, by his father-in-law. His vote in favor of Mountain Peak Winery last summer, also increased the value of the six parcels he claims are owned by his father-in-law because it set a precedent for remote winery development.

And yet, when interviewed for a recent Napa Valley Register article ("Pedroza addresses conflict-of-interest", published Feb. 6), Supervisor Pedroza claimed there is NO conflict of interest. This is an affront to all thinking voters of this county. He can dispute a conflict of interest all he wants, but we know otherwise. And there is still an investigation underway to determine if it is his father-in-law who owns the parcels, or Pedroza himself.

Should Walt Ranch be finally approved, the 6 parcels owned by his family will increase in value and attain certain benefits, including any public or private services brought to the Walt Ranch property. So, whether the property adjacent to Walt Ranch is owned by his father-in-law or by Pedroza himself, whether the FPPC finds this a violation or not, whether Pedroza put his personal residence up only as collateral on behalf of his father-in-law or not, he clearly has a personal stake in the outcome of any Walt Ranch decision.

Pedroza has been self-serving and personally ambitious since being appointed to the Board of Supervisors. But this new charge of corruption not only damages our community by sidelining public welfare in favor of a few wealthy individuals, it destroys people’s faith in Democracy.

Many residents felt that the size of the campaign donations from Craig and Kathryn Hall should have been enough to disqualify Supervisor Pedroza from any deliberations concerning Walt Ranch in December. But these more recent findings reveal more sinister and self-serving motives behind Pedroza’s unwavering support of Walt Ranch.

What we don’t know yet is what else Pedroza might have been doing behind the scenes this past year to push the Walt Ranch project through.

Indeed, the BOS meeting of Dec. 14, 2021, where the appeal by the Center for Biological Diversity was denied by a 3-2 vote, was the last meeting at which Pedroza was the chair of the Board of Supervisors. As such he set that meeting’s agenda and cast the deciding vote in favor of Walt Ranch. Had he disclosed his family’s ownership of the property then, the outcome of that vote would have been different. And the county would not be subject to any repercussions or extra expense that will now be incurred.

As a public official, he is also likely to be in violation of the California Political Reform Act [Government Code §§ 81000 - 91014 and §§ 18110 - 18997 of Title 2 of the California Code of Regulations] and federal conflict of interest rules [18 U.S.C. § 208 with implementing regulations at 5 C.F.R. § 2635.402]. This raises the question of whether a father-in-law is considered an immediate family member or not.

But to claim his father-in-law is not a member of his “immediate” family is splitting very thin hairs. We’re not buying it.

This clearly calls for further investigation before any further decisions are made regarding Walt Ranch. Indeed, a complete investigation of the multiple issues of BOS misuse of influence is long overdue.

Whether or not the Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) finds Pedroza’s actions illegal is immaterial. They are still unethical and lacking in moral integrity. And keep in mind who wrote the FPPC’s rules in the first place: elected public officials looking to protect themselves.

Indeed, Napa County’s own campaign finance “reform” ordinance, enacted last year while Pedroza was Board Chair, is just as bad. While it does place an upper limit ($4,900) on the amount any single individual can contribute to a single campaign, it leaves plenty of loopholes that give the sitting supervisors, who voted to enact it, a huge financial advantage over anyone wanting to challenge them.

It also does nothing to curb the influence out-of-state donors such as Craig and Kathryn Hall can wield on those county supervisors, and other elected officials, who stand before them with their palms open.

Lisa Seran

Napa

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