Usual Suspects

Town Hall Coalition comes to Sonoma

By Yosha Bourgea

WEST COUNTY residents aren’t the only ones concerned about the environmental hazards of vineyard expansion; they’ve just been raising the most hell about it more loudly. Now the Town Hall Coalition initiated by the Occidental Rural Alliance has a sister group in Sonoma Valley, where people have been rubbing shoulders with grape leaves for years. Next Tuesday evening, the Sonoma Valley Town Hall Coalition will hold its first public meeting to provide a forum for those who have been rubbed the wrong way.

Among the hot-button topics to be discussed are water issues, pesticide use, soil erosion, and the loss of natural habitat. Scheduled speakers include former Sebastopol Mayor Lynn Hamilton, who helped initiate the West County Town Hall Coalition; land conservation consultant Joan Vilms, Alan Buckman of the Department of Fish and Game, Patti Clary of Californians Against Toxic Substances, and Ed Wilson, an attorney specializing in water rights.

In the parched Sonoma Valley, where wells already are beginning to run dry, issues of water usage are particularly critical. Grapes, which require more irrigation than many other crops, are unfairly favored by lenient agricultural laws, coalition members say. “It’s not equal rights,” Hamilton says. “In fact, ag takes the rights away from other people. [Growers] can come in without a permit, dig a well next to your property, and drain you dry.”

Earlier this week, members of the Town Hall Coalition’s citizen action committee petitioned the Board of Supervisors for a moratorium on deep-water wells until adequate regulations can be established. Committee members also want to update the county groundwater ordinance, which has remained essentially unchanged since 1971.

Sonoma resident Marilyn Goode, one of the organizers of the new Town Hall Coalition, says she expects a strong showing from the well-established Sonoma Valley Vintners’ Association at the first meeting. “I think they’ll be very defensive,” Goode says, noting that the Vintner’s Association is holding a public meeting of its own on Feb. 22.

But despite the undercurrent of animosity, Hamilton says the Town Hall Coalition is not anti-agriculture. “This is directed at all development,” Hamilton says. “Is agriculture development? We think it is. If you’re in the ag industry, you get special deals and subsidies.

“We really support agriculture. But something is wrong here.”

The Sonoma Valley Town Hall Coalition will meet Tuesday, Jan. 18, from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m., in the Sonoma Community Center’s Andrews Hall, 276 E. Napa St., Sonoma. For details, call 996-5701 or e-mail [email protected]

Ghilotti 4 101

IT’S NO SURPRISE that the financial disclosure forms for Citizens 4 101, officially released on Monday, show overwhelming support from the construction industry. Measure B, which would raise the sales tax a half-cent for eight years to pay for improvements to Highways 101 and 116, received almost $199,000 in contributions from mid-October to the end of 1999, more than half of it coming from construction interests.

Construction company owner Jim Ghilotti loaned the campaign $50,000 in seed money.

Measure B supporters who contributed $1,000 or more include California Alliance for Jobs ($25,000); EUCA PAC ($25,000); North Coast Builders Exchange ($25,000); OCLI ($25,000); Peterson Tractor Co. ($10,000); Ghilotti Construction ($5,000); Dutra Group ($5,000); Pace Supply Corp. ($5,000); Syar Industries ($5,000); Oak Grove Construction ($2,000); Motion Analysis Corp. ($1,000); and Stevenson Supply and Tractor Co. ($1,000). Citizens 4 101 also received three major loans, one from Standard Structures CEO Dick Caletti for $20,000 and two from Ghilotti Construction for $15,000 and $35,000.

Ghilotti Construction is the most significant financial backer, although Jim Ghilotti insists he has been misrepresented by the press. “Jim Ghilotti hasn’t contributed a dime to this,” Ghilotti says. “Ghilotti Construction has.”

A recent daily article, Ghilotti says, unfairly singled him out as an individual contributor and also failed to note that $30,000 of the money his company loaned to Citizens 4 101 has already been paid back. Ghilotti also says the contributed funds would not give his company any kind of advantage in regard to receiving highway improvement contracts, should Measure B pass in March.

“That would be illegal,” Ghilotti says. “And anyway, the contract goes to the lowest bidder. I’m going to be in line with a bunch of others.”

This week begins an advertising blitz on behalf of the controversial measure, which supporters say will relieve traffic congestion and improve highway safety. Citizens 4 101 has already hired Arno Political Consultants for $61,000 to help promote the measure. Expect direct mail and radio and TV advertisement, as well as old-fashioned door-to-door stumping.

From the January 13-19, 2000 issue of the Sonoma County Independent.

© Metro Publishing Inc.

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