of the Lafferty Ranch Controversy
We are indebted to "Lafferty
Historian" Patricia Tuttle Brown, whose archives
contain the newspaper accounts and government
documents upon which the following chronology is
Circa 1834: What
is now Lafferty Ranch forms part of General
Mariano Vallejo's huge landgrants comprising much
of the north San Francisco Bay region during the
Mexican period of California's history.
c. 1877 to 1959:
A 1877 map of the Sonoma
Mountain area shows a parcel, with boundaries
as they are today, owned by one "Marshall
Lafferty". For the next eighty years the
property passes through several owners as a
working ranch, with a residence of which few
traces remain other than a few non-native fruit
trees. Later in that period the property is
operated as a privately-owned watershed providing
drinking water to Petaluma.
1959: The city
of Petaluma buys Lafferty Ranch and uses it as
watershed. Water from Lafferty is stored in
Lawler Reservoir, further down Sonoma Mountain on
Adobe Creek. During this period, the city permits
restricted access to Lafferty for educational and
other organized groups.
adopts a general plan which states, "the
city-owned Lafferty Ranch on Sonoma Mountain
shall become a community park."
County's first Recreation Plan proposes that
Lafferty Ranch be classified as a "Forest
and Regional Park" and placed in the
category of "highest priority in the county
program." County General Plans from that
time to the present also show a future
regional park at the site of Lafferty Ranch.
(See this map in the current, 1989 Sonoma
County General Plan.)
Editor's note: CLRRP has not seen any
documented objections or concerns by Sonoma
Mountain ranchers and residents prior to
1989 regarding the City's and County's
long-standing and well-publicized plans to turn
Lafferty into a public park.
1984: Peter G.
Pfendler buys a ranch adjacent to Lafferty, and
two years later builds a large residential
complex, easily the most visible structure on
Sonoma Mountain, a few hundred yards from
Lafferty's northwestern property line.
July 28, 1989:
Pfendler hires Redwood Empire Appraisal, which
appraises Lafferty Ranch for $675,000. The
appraisal document's stated purpose is "to
be used to assist the client in their
negotiations and the possible purchase of the
property from the City of Petaluma."
1992: The State
of California determines that Lawler Reservoir is
unsafe in the event of an earthquake. Most of
Petaluma's water now comes from the Russian River
system to the north, so the city decides against
a seismic retrofitting of the dam, and ceases
operation of the Lafferty-Lawler water system.
May 4, 1992: The
Petaluma City Council begins discussions of what
use should be made of Lafferty, including the
possibility of more public access. At a Petaluma
City Council meeting, Peter Pfendler says he has
"offered to purchase the (Lafferty) property
at the appraised value." He and other Sonoma
Mountain Road residents argue against public
June 15, 1992:
The City Council, by a 5 to 1 vote, rejects the
idea of selling Lafferty Ranch. "I am in no
way in favor of selling this property," says
Council Member Nancy Read. Council Member Michael
Davis said, "This is just one gem up there.
If we don't allow our citizens access to this
property, we are shutting them off from something
they deserve." The Council directed staff to
"develop methods of managing the use of
Lafferty Ranch for adult as well as youth groups,
so that the land is available to the individuals
who would respect it."
July 1992: The
City proposes a Lafferty public access plan that
would allow access by permit during daylight
hours for no more than 8 people a day.
August 23, 1992:
The Press Democrat reports that Lafferty Ranch
neighbor Al Bettman signed an agreement with
Peter Pfendler refusing to allow the City to use
his land at the entrance to Lafferty. (At that
time, it was the common though mistaken belief
that Lafferty was landlocked by Bettman's
property.) Bettman says, "I'm not as
paranoid as my neighbor about public access, but
I'll go along with Pfendler." Michael Davis
responded, 'It's one of the most beautiful and
scenic areas we have. It can't be kept away from
the people... I think this could be a little war
up there in the hills. Mr. Pfendler has
threatened to call in his posse of lawyers, but
you can't keep 45,000 people off their property."
September 3, 1992:
William Hunter, of the law firm of Petit and
Martin, representing Peter Pfendler and the
Sonoma Mountain Property Owners Association,
sends its "shotgun brief" letter to
City Hall opposing public access to Lafferty.
October 5, 1992:
At the City Council meeting, "about 30
residents of Sonoma Mountain Road showed up to
oppose that (Lafferty access) plan, repeating
most of the arguments they made in May but in
greater numbers and to greater success. No one
favoring access was present." Pfendler's
attorney cited "potential significant
environmental effects' from the City's proposal."
Residents presented the letter from County Public
Works about traffic and road safety.
This meeting was a turning point. All of the
Council Members present who formerly supported
unsupervised public access changed their mind,
including Michael Davis. Members Lynn Woolsey and
Nancy Read, according to the Argus said they'd
like a "mediation" process to work out
something acceptable. According to the Council
"It was the Council consensus
that a subcommittee of the Council, the (Sonoma
Mountain) homeowners, the environmentalists, and
staff should meet to continue to work toward a
resolution to [sic] some of these issues, before
requesting and environmental study. The hearing was
closed and the matter will be brought before the
Council when the committee has met."
The creation of this subcommittee
never happened, despite repeated requests from
citizens (as shown below.)
October 5, 1992:
John Saemann, on behalf of the Sonoma Mountain
Property Owners Association, sends a written
request to the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors
requesting deletion of Lafferty Ranch's regional
park designation in the County General Plan. The
City of Petaluma is not copied on the letter.
November 16, 1992:
The Council votes unanimously to request that the
County Board of Supervisors reject the SMPOA's
petition to delete Lafferty's regional park
designation. At that meeting, Lafferty access
supporter David Keller "suggested (that) a
'win-win' way of accomplishing the goal would be
to have a committee of representatives of all
parties involved to work towards a solution to
the ultimate use of Lafferty Ranch."
Daniel Williams and other Lafferty supporters
form Citizens for Access to Lafferty Ranch, a
forerunner of CLRRP. During this critical period,
County Conservation Action provides
indispensable organizational assistance to the
January 10, 1993:
The Argus Courier reported:
"Nearly 200 letters supporting
access to Lafferty Ranch and addressed to "Mayor
and City Council" have arrived at Petaluma City
Hall the past month, but city manager John Scharer
still has them all."
"Scharer says he has no plans to pass the
letters on to the Council because of the hours it
would take to photocopy them seven times, one for
each council member."
January 12, 1993:
Citizens for Access to Lafferty Ranch,
representing the individuals who had been
speaking before the Council over the past year,
writes a letter to the City Council. It requests
that the Council form the committee like the one
the Council proposed at their October 5 meeting.
"The purpose of this committee would be to
investigate the feasibility of allowing the
citizens of Petaluma access to Lafferty Ranch and
to determine what conditions should apply. We
believe that a "win-win" situation can
be achieved for everyone." The letter also
asks the Council to authorize a field trip to
Lafferty on January 30 or February 6.
"Swap" is hatched
"City officials, the (OSD) and
at least one unknown player are working on a deal
that could result in a regional park on Sonoma
"Nobody wants to talk much about the deal
because negotiations are under way 'and pretty
sensitive,' said David Hansen, general manager of the
open space district. But Hansen, City Manager John
Scharer and several members of the City Council
confirmed Friday that they are exploring methods of
gaining public access to a large chunk of Sonoma
Mountain. The goal appears to be to provide an
alternative to Lafferty Ranch."
"The hush-hush deal involves an alternative site
on Sonoma Mountain. No one would comment on what
might happen to Lafferty Ranch if another site were
found suitable for a regional park."
"Pfendler could not be reached for comment last
"No city official or council member would
discuss details of the new proposal. Two large
parcels on the mountain that may be involved in the
deal have riding stables, other buildings, and roads
already in place."
"A group called Citizens for Access to Lafferty
Ranch asked the council to establish a citizens
committee that would include members from all sides
of the issue. The group is also lobbying for a field
trip to Lafferty Ranch so people can see the land in
February 14, 1993:
The Argus Courier reports:
"Mountains of mail over Lafferty:"
"One of the most unusual displays of
political support in Petaluma history continues
to pour into City Hall mailboxes... At least two
council members have received more than 100
letters, nearly all handwritten and expressing
roughly identical sentiments (in favor of making
Lafferty Ranch a regional park.)"
"(Council member Brian) Sobel said the
letters are helpful because the council had few
people in its corner during some bruising
hearings last fall. Landowners on the mountain
wondered why the council was trying to shove this
plan down their throats in the apparent absence
of popular support -- while the council members
argued they were acting on behalf of 44,000
"'Early on, the question was, 'Why aren't
they here?' Well, here they are, checking in on
it,' Sobel said."
All together, close to 1000 letters were sent to
the Council supporting access to Lafferty,
according to Sonoma County Conservation Action.
February 15, 1993:
Dan Williams, the leader of Citizens for Access
to Lafferty Ranch sends a letter to the Mayor and
City Council which documents how City Manager
John Scharer twice postponed the group's
appearance on the City Council Agenda, from
February 1 to the 16th to March 1st. The letter
also points out that the group's request to visit
Lafferty had also been put off.
Editor's note: Eventually two or three
small tours of Lafferty were permitted during
1993, though many people were turned away due to
restrictions on the number of visitors. As with
later tours, every opportunity for the public to
see the property for themselves resulted in a
groundswell of enthusiasm for keeping and opening
"Last year, I expressed an
interest in acquiring Lafferty Ranch from the City
and to maintain its open space character. In
subsequent City Council meetings, the possibility of
a land swap was discussed, if this could lead to the
City's acquisition of another parcel of land that
might be suitable for public access and passive
The letter goes on to describe Moon Ranch and the
possible involvement of the OSD in facilitating the
In searching Council meeting minutes and local news
stories, CLRRP has found no documentation of any
Council Meeting discussions of land swap until the
March 1, 1993 meeting. This is the basis for swap
critics' claim that the swap was hatched as a "backroom
deal" between Pfendler and City and County
March 1, 1993:
The proposed Moon for Lafferty swap is announced.
The citizens committee to review access to
Lafferty is not discussed.
Peter Pfendler buys Moon Ranch for $2.2 million.
Editor's note: For the next
several months, Petaluma was gripped by the abduction
and murder of 12-year-old Polly Klaas on October 1,
1993. Lafferty and other such local issues did not
attract much notice during this period.
June 1994: The
City of Petaluma arranges public tours of
Lafferty and Moon ranches. Several hundred people
avail themselves of the opportunity to see both
Throughout the rest of 1994 through early 1996,
the swap became a very public debate in Petaluma,
with dozens of impassioned letters to the editor
and speakers before the City Council (estimated
by Bruce Hagen as opposing the swap about 4 to 1),
extensive newspaper coverage, in particular by
reporter Dave Alcott for the Argus Courier, and
hundreds of "Keep Lafferty" bumper
stickers and yard signs throughout the region.
Sonoma County Regional Parks publishes "Regional
Park Feasibility Study, Lafferty Ranch & Moon
Ranch", which seems designed to support the
swap. This document is deconstructed at length in
Bruce Hagen's whitepaper.
September 19, 1994:
The Petaluma City Council approves the swap
contingent on seven conditions, on a 5-2 vote
with councilmembers Jane Hamilton and Carol
Barlas in opposition.
Matt Maguire, a leading Lafferty activist and
swap opponent, receives the most votes in the
Petaluma City Council race. Mary Stompe, whose
position on the swap is ambiguous before the
election, but who later turns out to be a leading
swap supporter, is also elected. The stage is set
for two years of acrimonious debate between the
"pro-swap majority" (Nancy Read, Lori
Shea, Mary Stompe, and Mayor Patti Hilligoss),
and the "anti-swap minority" (Jane
Hamilton, Carol Barlas, and Matt Maguire) on the
Petaluma City Council.
July 19, 1995: The
County Open Space District agrees to pay Peter
Pfendler $1.4 million in exchange for the
development rights to his Moon Ranch. District
staff had recommended paying no more than $900,000
to a maximum of $1.2 million for these rights.
At the instigation of new councilmember Matt
Maguire, the City again offers tours to Lafferty
and Moon. As evidenced by letters to the editor
and support for CLRRP, each public tour results
in a huge wave of pro-Lafferty sentiment. Since
that time, Lafferty Ranch has been off-limits to
the general public (to date!).
August 4, 1995:
Mary Stompe, who campaigned for City Council as
open-minded on the swap, announces she will now
support the swap, breaking a 3-3 tie.
August 6, 1995:
Former City councilmember Michael Davis completes
his reversal of earlier support for Lafferty,
regularly attacking swap opponents in his Argus
Courier column, and even going so far as to
propose that a new regional park (at Moon) be
named in honor of Peter Pfendler.
September 11, 1995:
Mayor Patti Hilligoss is quoted in the San
Francisco Chronicle saying of the swap, "It's
a done deal."
The Sonoma County Regional Parks publish their
survey listing hiking in natural areas as the
outdoor recreational experience most desired by
Sonoma County residents.
October 26, 1995:
Peter Pfendler offers to permit supervised tours
of Lafferty three days a year if he owns it.
November 3, 1995: Swap
supporters produce an expensive 4-page brochure
explaining their position entitled Give us
the Moon, distributed as a supplement in the
Argus Courier. It states, in part, "At the
urging of the city, [Peter Pfendler] bought Moon
Ranch to enable Petaluma to swap for a regional
park." It also blusters at length about the
tiny band of noisy, elite environmentalists who
want Lafferty versus the broad, silent majority (where
have we heard that before?) who favor Moon.
November 7, 1995:
Swap opponents now begin to talk openly about
sponsoring a referendum to let the voters settle
the issue. Peter Pfendler has this to say about
the Give us the Moon brochure and its
well-heeled backers: "Getting the facts out
is a legitimate goal in itself. I would also
assume part of the motivation of the people who
put their name on it was in response to the
threat of a referendum... Very few people would
start a referendum if it is clear to them they
ultimately were going to lose a vote on it."
That same Argus Courier article quotes Brian
Sobel, the presumed author of the brochure, in
the same vein: "'Money is no problem,' said
Sobel of the pro-Moon group that published the
names of 54 supporters on the front page of its
November 11, 1995:
The Press Democrat reports a professional
telephone poll is being conducted in the Petaluma
area asking opinions about the Moon-Lafferty swap.
The pollster, Richard Hertz of Bodega Bay, will
not reveal the name of his client.
The results of this poll, which was apparently
commissioned by pro-swap groups (we know it
wasn't ours!), were never made public. In view of
later poll results, we can guess that this poll
gave swap proponents their first inkling that
public opinion was running heavily against them.
December 5, 1995:
A City Council vote to finalize the Moon-Lafferty
swap, originally scheduled for October 16, 1995,
is postponed again until January, and will be
postponed again until the Spring. Cold feet,
January 25, 1996:
Sonoma County Open Space District consummates its
part of the swap by paying Peter Pfendler $1.2
million in exchange for the Moon Ranch
development rights, with $200,000 more promised
February 5, 1996:
On behalf of CLRRP, attorney Richard Roos-Collins
formally challenges the swap on the basis that
relinquishing the City's water rights is illegal.
Former San Francisco Mayor Joseph Alioto also
weighs in with a letter supporting the Roos-Collins
This maneuver followed other important anti-swap
legal efforts led by Petaluma attorney Jim
Dombroski. While these legal tactics did not turn
out to be decisive in and of themselves, they did
help to delay the finalization of the swap during
several critical months until CLRRP's grass-roots
organizing could build enough strength to kill
the swap politically.
March 13, 1996:
The Press Democrat publishes the results of its
poll showing Petaluma citizens oppose the swap 3
to 1, with most listing "Lafferty is
irreplaceable" as their primary reason.
March 13, 1996:
The pro-swap majority on the Petaluma City
Council immediately begins to run for cover. Led
by Lori Shea (who is up for re-election in
November 1996), they reverse themselves and now
talk of putting the swap to the voters as a
ballot measure in November. The Lafferty
supporters on the Council (Hamilton, Barlas, and
Maguire) are dubious about the pro-swap
majority's motives, and it appears unlikely that
both sides could agree on the wording of such a
ballot measure. As a result, CLRRP determines to
go forward with its own initiative.
March 26, 1996:
The City Council majority tentatively votes to
"freeze" the swap for one year, a
transparent attempt to neutralize a damaging
1996: John Scharer, the Petaluma
City Manager who was one of the behind-the-scenes
architects of the Moon-Lafferty swap (see entry
for February 7, 1993), announces
plans to retire at the end of the year.
April 5, 1996:
Swap critics, led by CLRRP members, claim the
City Council majority violated the State's open
meeting law, the Brown Act, by apparently
reaching the decision to freeze the swap in
April 16, 1996:
County Supervisor Jim Harberson publicly agrees
that another regional park site other than Moon
or Lafferty is a possibility. Swap supporters,
including Mayor Hilligoss, later complain that
this admission (which was a long time coming)
undermines their insistence that Lafferty must be
sacrificed to get such a park. In other news of
the same City Council meeting, Matt Maguire and
Jane Hamilton are accused by fellow
councilmembers Lori Shea and Mary Stompe of
"trespassing" on city-owned Lafferty
April 29, 1996:
The City Council formalizes the one-year freeze
of the swap.
May 20, 1996:
Several members of CLRRP bring suit against four
members of the City Council (Hilligoss, Shea,
Stompe, and Read) alleging they violated
California's open meeting law, the Ralph M. Brown
Act, in reaching their March decision to freeze
May 21, 1996:
Competing initiative campaigns are launched:
The "Keep Lafferty
Committee" (an offshoot of CLRRP)
begins circulating petitions to put our
"Keep Lafferty" initiative on
the ballot in November. It would keep
Lafferty in public hands and create a
management plan for public access based
on the best practices of other such
wilderness parks in the Bay Area.
The newly formed "Committee
for Choice," headed by Lee Snow and
Donald Smith, sponsors two initiatives
authored by Matt Hudson, an attorney who
has represented Peter Pfendler throughout
the swap. One initiative would complete
the swap as proposed; the other (which we
called the "Keep OFF Lafferty"
initiative), would have Lafferty remain
in City ownership but limit public access
to three docent-led tours a year.
June 14, 1996:
The Keep Lafferty Committee/CLRRP collects 5,600
signatures in record time (around 2000 are needed
to qualify for the ballot).
July 14, 1996:
Both measures sponsored by the Committee for
Choice are disqualified due to the discovery of
thousands of obviously forged signatures on their
July 15, 1996: A
new standard of pettiness is set by the pro-swap
majority on the City Council, as they deny a
routine, honorary title of vice-mayor to Jane
Hamilton, who is in line for the post, and
instead give it to Mary Stompe. At the same
meeting, the majority ousts Lafferty supporter
Pamela Torliatt from the planning commission.
Four months later, Pamela was voted into the City
Council and Lori Shea was voted out. Two years
after that, Hilligoss, Read, Stompe, and
Supervisor Harberson will follow Shea into
political oblivion. As of Fall, 1998, no Petaluma
politician who advocated selling or trading
Lafferty has won any subsequent election.
July 19, 1996:
CLRRP's initiative is also disqualified on a
technicality. The requirement to provide advance
public notice of the petition drive was not
July 22, 1996:
Peter Pfendler drops in on a Petaluma City
Council meeting and abruptly calls off the swap,
saying, "Continuing this process would only
perpetuate the chaos and divisiveness in this
community with a conclusion that no one can now
foresee. As a result, we are announcing our
withdrawal from this transaction effective
July 29, 1996:
The City Council unanimously adopts Ordinance 2022, which
commits the city to keeping Lafferty in public
ownership and opening it to public enjoyment.
This ordinance has essentially the same wording
as CLRRP's initiative, which was disqualified on
a technicality a few days earlier.
August 10, 1996:
Campaign finance documents show the pro-swap
Committee for Choice outspent the Keep Lafferty
Committee 11 to 1 in their respective petition
drives. The Committee for Choice relied in large
part on paid signature gatherers, while the
Lafferty supporters were all volunteers. Of the
reported $9,400 spent by the Committee for
Choice, $3,616 was a loan (later forgiven) from
Sonoma Mountain resident John Saemann, and $1,500
was for the services of Peter Pfendler's attorney
Matt Hudson (also later forgiven).
August 26, 1996:
The swap is officially killed. The Petaluma City
Council votes unanimously to rescind the
September 1994 decision to trade Lafferty, and
adopts ordinance #2022, which is essentially the
same as CLRRP's "Keep Lafferty"
September 18, 1996:
Local officials turn over the investigation of
the Committee for Choice voter fraud to state
elections fraud investigators. Considerable
prompting and public pressure, led by Matt
Maguire on the City Council and CLRRP as citizens
representatives, was required to keep the
investigation moving and on track at both the
local and state levels.
November 5, 1996:
The victory for Lafferty is consolidated in City
Council elections. Lafferty supporters David
Keller, Pamela Torliatt, and incumbent Jane
Hamilton incredibly sweep the three open seats.
Together with Matt Maguire, they form a new
majority on the council committed to keeping
Lafferty and opening it to the public.
November 6, 1996:
The Sonoma County Elections Office announces that
its ongoing count of fraudulent signatures for
one of the Committee for Choice initiatives is up
to 1,544 of 3,254 submitted, raising the
percentage of bogus signatures to 47%. The count
would later double for the two petitions to 3,130
1996: The newly empanelled, 17-member
Lafferty Access Committee begins work on an
access and management plan for the future
December 8, 1996:
Peter Pfendler lists Moon Ranch for sale with a
glossy brochure describing its potential as a
vineyard estate. The asking price of $4.5, even
with its minimal development rights, is far too
high for the county to consider acquiring it as a
December 28, 1996:
Peter Pfendler has a 7-foot tall chainlink fence
installed on part of the property line between
his estate and Lafferty Ranch. Lafferty
supporters claim the fence is inside the historic
boundary marked by an old stone fence, that it
interferes with migrating wildlife, that the
fence crew cut down several trees on City
property, and that its height constitutes a
February 12, 1997:
The state fire chief for the region refutes
claims that public access to Lafferty would
constitute an extreme fire danger.
April 25, 1997: Wildlife
experts determine that no golden eagles nest on
Lafferty, putting to rest another pseudo-environmental
canard used to oppose public access to Lafferty.
May 7, 1997: Ten
months after the crime, state investigators of
the petition fraud case turn over their evidence
(which is not disclosed) to Sonoma County
District Attorney Mike Mullins.
May 13, 1997:
Craig and Shelly Arthur, former Committee for
Choice organizers, are arrested in Idaho on
suspicion of forging scores of signatures, and
June 2, 1997:
The Petaluma City Council opts to pursue a full
Environmental Impact Report process as the best
protection against expected legal challenges to
opening Lafferty. The consulting firm of Leonard
Charles and Associates of San Anselmo is hired to
head the EIR effort.
October 8, 1997:
A boundary survey commissioned by the City
bolsters the city's (and Lafferty supporters'
longstanding) claim that Lafferty Ranch is
accessible from Sonoma Mountain Road. The survey
also shows that Peter Pfendler's new fence
intrudes as much as ten feet onto Lafferty
October 11, 1997: Craig
Arthur of the Committee for Choice pleads no
contest to six felony counts of initiative
petition fraud. Shelly Arthur pleads guilty to
six related misdemeanor counts. They agree to
cooperate in the ongoing investigation.
November 11, 1997:
Multiple felony charges arising from the voter
fraud case are brought against Martin McClure, a
former Republican candidate for State Assembly
who at the time of the fraud worked as an aide to
County Supervisor Paul Kelley, and against
Stephen Henricksen, who was also once a
Republican Assembly candidate and former campaign
manager for Rebublican State Senate Candidate
John Jordan, and whom Kelley had appointed to the
county Fair Board. Also charged with misdemeanor
counts is Marion Hodge, who works as an aide to
County Supervisor Jim Harberson.
December 29, 1997:
Petaluma City Councilmember Jane Hamilton
announces she will challenge Jim Harberson for
his County Supervisor's seat in 1998.
January 8, 1998:
Supervisor Jim Harberson, citing health problems,
announces he will not seek re-election.
February 19, 1998:
Peter G. Pfendler is arrested on charges of
felony spousal abuse. According to a later press
report (Press Democrat, July 21, 1998), "Pfendler
kicked and shattered a sliding glass door [of a
neighboring house], then hit his wife repeatedly,
dragging her down the stairs by her hair and
blouse. He dragged her outside where he kicked
her feet out from under her and choked her."
According to a March 4 Press Democrat article,
Conni Pfendler's eardrum was broken for the
second time in this attack, with the original
injury having resulted from a previously
unreported prior attack by her husband.
Editor's note: While this incident is not
directly related to the Lafferty issue, we
include it here to illustrate the character of
the main Lafferty antagonist, and because it has
had a profound effect on the Lafferty debate.
Prior to this, many arguments for swapping or
preventing public access to Lafferty included
lavish praise of Peter Pfendler, the self-made
millionaire, the "environmentalist,"
the philanthropist. We don't hear much of that
wheels of justice...
April 28: 1998: Superior
Court Judge Mark Tansil sentences Craig Arthur to
six months in jail, a $6000 fine, and three years
probation for his role in the voter fraud case.
Shelly Arthur is sentenced to 250 hours of
community service, a $3000 fine, and three years
May 28, 1998: In
a plea bargain, Pfendler pleads guilty to
misdemeanor spousal abuse; in return the County D.A.'s
office drops several felony charges.
June 11, 1998: A
Superior Court Judge denies Petaluma's request to
conduct public tours of Lafferty during the EIR
June 3, 1998:
Petaluma Police Sergeant Mike Kerns, who promises
to continue Jim Harberson's policies, and Jane
Hamilton finish first and second in primary
balloting for 2nd District Supervisor. The two
prepare to face each other in a runoff in
June 9, 1998:
Supervisorial candidate Mike Kerns attends a
meeting of the secretive Sonoma Mountain
Conservancy, seeking their support. This is the
group which has adamantly opposed public access
to Lafferty, and elsewhere on the mountain.
July 21, 1998:
Sonoma County Court Judge Robert Dale sentences
Peter Pfendler to 28 days in jail for spousal
abuse and vandalism. As reported in the July 22,
1998 San Francisco Chronicle, Pfendler is also
ordered "to attend a counseling program for
wife beaters, pay a $7,000 fine and not own a gun
for 10 years," as well as "to serve 36
months of formal probation" (SF Chronicle,
October 1, 1998).
August 4, 1998:
McClure and Henricksen plead guilty and no
contest, respectively, to felony charges of
illegal signature gathering for the Committee for
Choice initiatives. The judge in the case is
quoted suggesting they might avoid jail time due
to lack of a previous criminal record.
According to an informal telephone poll in the
Argus Courier the following week, many Petalumans
feel the investigation and prosecution of this
case stopped short of identifying the higher-ups
believed responsible for this crime. Cui
bono? -- "who stood to benefit"?
Councilmembers Mary Stompe, Nancy Read, and Mayor
Patti Hilligoss all announce they will not seek
re-election in the fall. These retirements, and
Harberson's, complete the political rout of all
local politicians who advocated selling, trading,
or denying the public access to Lafferty Ranch.
August 23, 1998:
The Lafferty EIR process takes a step forward as
a first public comment phase is completed.
September 29, 1998:
Sonoma County Judge Robert S. Boyd sentences
Martin McClure to nine months of electronic home
confinement for his role in the voter fraud, plus
three years probation, 80 hours of volunteer
work, and $1,600 in restitution.
September 30, 1998:
The fall campaign for Petaluma City Council and
Mayor picks up steam with a candidates' forum. As
reported by the Press Democrat, two Council
candidates (Mike O'Brien and John Mills) and one
mayorial candiate (Bonnie Nelson) suggest opening
Lafferty may not be worth the money it is costing
the city. The other candidates voice generally
strong support for opening Lafferty as a public
September 30, 1998:
Peter Pfendler reports to Sonoma County jail and
begins serving his 28-day sentence for spousal
October 5, 1998:
Sonoma County Judge Robert S. Boyd sentences
Stephen Henricksen to four months in jail for his
role in the voter fraud scandal, plus 140 hours
of community service. The judge says he will not
oppose electronic home confinement for Henricksen
in lieu of jail time.
The trial of the final voter fraud defendent,
Marion Hodge, the former aide to Supervisor Jim
Harberson, is postponed yet again.
October 8, 1998:
CLRRP endorses Jane Hamilton for Sonoma County
Supervisor, David Glass for Petaluma Mayor, and
incumbent Matt Maguire, Janice Cader-Thompson,
and Steve Arago for Petaluma City Council.
October 17, 1998:
In the first activity organized by Naturehood
Watch, around 40 Lafferty supporters turned
out to pick up over 10 cubic yards of trash along
Sonoma Mountain Road below Lafferty Ranch, as a
gesture of goodwill and neighborliness. The event
received press coverage in the Argus-Courier. (Photo
by Jason Doiy/Argus-Courier staff.)
November 3, 1998:
Another long-time Lafferty activist, Janice Cader-Thompson,
finishes first in voting for Petaluma City
Council, with incumbent Matt Maguire a close
second. Together with the third Council winner
Mike Healy and new Mayor Clark Thompson, Petaluma
now has a city government very solidly committed
to opening Lafferty Ranch to the public. Jane
Hamilton falls short in her supervisorial
campaign against Mike Kerns, however. See this discussion
of election ramifications.
November 17, 1998:
After a closed-session discussion of legal
strategy, the Petaluma City Council votes to
revise the draft EIR further rather than certify
its adequacy as submitted.
January 1, 1999:
What ever happened to Marion Hodge, the longtime
aide to retiring supervisor Jim Harberson who was
the fifth person charged in the voter fraud case?
The Argus Courier reports for the first time in
their "Year in Review" piece that,
without entering any plea, she was allowed to
enroll in the Project Intercept diversion program
which is an "alternative to going through
the traditional court process," in the words
of program director Andriya Glessner. The A-C
goes on to note that "exactly what Hodge was
required to do under the program is confidential,"
according to Glessner.
So the Lafferty-Moon Ranch voter fraud case is
now neatly "wrapped up" with no trials,
no one having to take the stand to answer
questions under oath, no conspiracy charges, and
as far as we can tell, no actual jail time served.
Most importantly, there has been no apparent
effort to answer our questions about whether
anyone above the level of McClure and Henricksen,
anyone who actually stood to benefit from the
fraud, was involved in this crime.
May 3, 1999:
Supervisor Mike Kerns appears before the Petaluma
City Council to discuss various issues. As
reported in the May 5 Press Democrat, "...Kerns
rebuffed the City Council's request to ease
county requirements for improving Sonoma Mountain
Road in order to open Lafferty Ranch as a park.
'The roadway is a problem,' Kerns said. 'The
county doesn't want to assume the additional
liability potential for a city park. That's
basicially the position.'"
This is in reference to the county's insertion
into the Lafferty EIR a wholly unprecedented
requirement that the road to Lafferty meet
stringent national ("AASHTO") standards.
May 27, 1999:
Sonoma County publishes its long-awaited draft
Outdoor Recreation Plan.Lafferty Ranch, which has
been a proposed parksite in county plans for
decades, is downgraded to a proposed "preserve,"
which might suggest limited access. A long sought
proposed trail connecting Lafferty with other
parks is deleted from the draft.
Despite all this, Lafferty foes go ballistic that
the park is even mentioned in the plan. Stephen
Butler, who is routinely identified in the Press
Democrat as "an attorney for Sonoma Mountain
landowners," writes to the county that the
mention of Lafferty "will hang like an
albatross around the neck of the recreation plan."
August 24, 1999:
Sonoma County Supervisors hold two public
workshops on the Outdoor Recreation Plan, to
which hundreds of supporters of trails and
natural parklands turn out and speak. Four
Petaluma city councilmembers, Jane Hamilton,
David Keller, Pamela Torliatt, and Janice Cader-Thompson,
speak on the need for more parks and trails in
south county and asking for county support in
Supervisor Mike Kerns responds, as quoted in the
September 1, 1999 Press Democrat: "If the
City Council wants to make Lafferty a park, go
right ahead and do it. I'm not going to get into
that....I'm not going to get involved.''
September 2, 1999:
editorial in the Press Democrat takes Mike
Kerns to task for "detached if not
provincial" stance on Lafferty. "Kerns
is wrong if he believes this is Petaluma's battle
alone to fight. If the county is as committed to
open space as it ought to be, it should be
supporting Petaluma at every turn and working to
overcome the damage done by rancher Peter
Pfendler, the principal opponent to public access."
September 14, 1999: At
a followup meeting of the Board of Supervisors,
several Supervisors including Mike Kerns ask that
the long-sought trail over Sonoma Mountain be
added to the Outdoor Recreation Plan. As reported
Lauer in the 9/21 Argus Courier:
"On Wednesday, Kerns said he
always has supported a trail over Sonoma Mountain,
whether that be through Lafferty or other properties.
But his support should not be construed as unabashed
support for a Lafferty trail link."
(One supposes that abashed
support is better than none. - Ed.)
21, 1999: The
neighboring town of Sonoma votes 77% to save city-owned,
hillside open space overlooking their central
plaza. Their issue has some differences from
Petaluma's Moon-Lafferty swap of 1994-96, but
also important similarities: wealthy private
interests attempted to wrest away a parcel of
public land for their own purposes, and tried to
influence local politics in a heavy-handed way,
outspending hillside preservationists more than
12-1. Citizens rejected this attempt to privatize
their commons, saying very forcefully that
neither precious public open space nor voters are
for sale in Sonoma. For more on the Sonoma issue,
14, 1999: The Press
Democrat (12/14/1999) and the Argus-Courier (12/23/1999)
report that criminal charges are being brought
against dairy rancher and Lafferty neighbor Larry
Cheda for his allegedly intentional discharge of
732,000 gallons of concentrated cow manure and
urine into Washington Creek, which flows through
the center of Petaluma, on February 19, 1999.
"[Deputy District Attorney Jeffrey] Holtzman
said the high volume of ammonia in the waste is
extremely toxic to fish and other aquatic life,
and high sediment levels of the sludge kill life
on the creek bed. ... 'It fills the little spaces
between the rocks and pebbles in the creek bed,''
he said of the waste. 'It can effectively
suffocate the life out of the bottom layer of the
food chain. It's extremely deleterious to fish
and bird life.' He said Washington Creek was
already significantly degraded, but if properly
protected it is capable of being a spawning
ground for steelhead."
Cheda's family has been at the forefront of
opposition to public access to Lafferty Ranch.
This opposition has argued, among other things,
that hiking trails on Lafferty could damage
steelhead habitat in Adobe Creek (!). Cheda faces
up to two years in jail and $26,000 in fines if
convicted of this crime. A settlement hearing is
scheduled for January 10, 2000.
4, 2000: The Press
Democrat (3/4/2000) reports that Peter Pfendler
has sold Moon Ranch for $4.1 million. The buyer,
Robery Kingery of Belvedere, CA, "doesn't
envision public use of the land nor does he plan
on ever selling it."
March 8, 2000: Sonoma
Mountain rancher Larry Cheda pleads "no
contest" to misdemeanor charges that he
deliberately polluted Washington Creek with 732,000
gallons of dairy waste. He is sentenced to 30
days in jail, but that sentence was suspended. He
was also fined $30,000, $15,000 of which was also
suspended. He was given one year's probation.
September 28, 2000: The
Draft EIR is (once again) circulated for public
comment. A public meeting is scheduled for
November 13, 2000 for the City Council to decide
whether to certify the adequacy of the EIR.
November 7, 2000: City
Council elections are mixed. The top vote-getter
is long-time Lafferty supporter Pamela Torliatt,
and the overwhelming majority of votes
cumulatively goes to five (!) other Lafferty-supporting
candidates. This fragmented vote results in the
election of two other candidates, Mike O'Brien
and Bryant Moynihan, who oppose spending more
money to open Lafferty. Nevertheless, we feel
there is still a solid majority on the council
committed to opening Lafferty Ranch park.
November 13, 2000: The
Petaluma City Council meets jointly with the
Planning and Parks & Rec Commissions to close
the EIR public input period. The hall is filled
with Lafferty supporters who speak passionately
about the need for opening the park. The three
city bodies vote unanimously to proceed with
preparation of the Final EIR. Staff and
consultants must now process and respond to 1000
pages of written input, pro and con.
March 2, 2001: Tentative
date announced for public hearing on Final EIR
and park project: Monday, March 26, 2001, at 7:00
at Petaluma City Hall.
March 26, 2001:
Petaluma City Council directs staff to prepare
final CEQA documentation and respond to the
county's challenges with regard to Sonoma
Mountain Road. Project approval now expected in
late summer, 2001.
October 16, 2001:
Petaluma City Council certifies the 2000 page EIR
as complete and accurate, but defers action on
approving the project, citing lack of funds and
lack of county cooperation. Lafferty supporters
will now shift their focus toward securing those
January 13, 2002:
50 Lafferty Supporters, led by Friends of
Lafferty Park, undertake a seven mile walk and
demonstration from downtown Petaluma to the (locked)
gate of Lafferty. The purpose is to call
attention to the fact that the park is still off
limits to the public after 40 years in the City's
general plan, 38 years in the County's general
plan, and 10 years of actively working to open
the park. Another aim is to call for the county
and Open Space District to support the park,
which will serve residents and visitors from
throughout the area, not just Petaluma. See these
news articles and
photos of the event. FLP promises that
similar events will be held regularly until the
park is open.
February 24, 2002:
January's "Walk to the Park" is
repeated with upwards of 100 participants,
including participants from throughout Sonoma
County. Walks continue in the coming months.
May 28, 2002:
The Sonoma County Board of Supervisors rejects
Petaluma's application for Open Space funding,
via sale of Lafferty's development rights to the
District, to be used to open Lafferty Park. This
decision (Kerns, Kelley, and Smith voting against
Petaluma's application, only Mike Reilly voting
in favor) followed 90 minutes of passionate
public testimony from a room packed with Lafferty
June 16, 2003:
Friends of Lafferty Park announces that Mitsui, owner of a 630-acre ranch
adjacent to Lafferty Park, covering much of the
top part of Sonoma Mountain, has offered to
donate a trail easement acrBonnieoss her ranch to the
State of California, provided the state makes the connections to Lafferty and to Jack London State Historic Park on the
northeastern slope of the mountain. More on this
exciting breakthrough, with photos...
2004: The Petaluma City Council adopts Resolution
state and local agencies to create a park and
trail network on Sonoma Mountain to include
Lafferty and a Mitsui trail
2004: Petaluma City Councilmember Clark
Thompson, who was the swing vote in favor of the
above resolution, asked to reconsider it, then
voted to rescind it along with members Mike
Harris, Mike O'Brien, and Bryant Moynihan.
January 26, 2005: KGO (ABC-7) television broadcasts coverage of the Lafferty Park controversy entitled , "Publicly owned land that's completely off limits."
June 20, 2007: Articles in the Press Democrat and Argus-Courier announce the death of long-time Lafferty Park opponent Peter Pfendler. Petaluma Mayor Pam Torliatt is quoted as saying, "This may turn a page in the story of Lafferty". Stay tuned.
toward the future
Significant events will be
added to this chronology as they occur. To learn how you
can help write the final chapters of this saga, see our future outcomes page.
Note about sources: Parts
of this chronology are taken from Bruce Hagen's whitepaper, which includes some source citations.
Virtually all events are documented in the Press
Democrat or the Petaluma Argus
Courier on or shortly after the