of the Lafferty Ranch Controversy

Note: We are indebted to "Lafferty Historian" Patricia Tuttle Brown, whose archives contain the newspaper accounts and government documents upon which the following chronology is based.

The pre-controversy era

  • 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.

  • 1962: Petaluma adopts a general plan which states, "the city-owned Lafferty Ranch on Sonoma Mountain shall become a community park."

  • 1964: Sonoma 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.

Trouble ahead

  • 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 access.

  • 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 Minutes,

"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."

Lafferty supporters organize

  • December 1992: Daniel Williams and other Lafferty supporters form Citizens for Access to Lafferty Ranch, a forerunner of CLRRP. During this critical period, Sonoma County Conservation Action provides indispensable organizational assistance to the fledgling group.

  • 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.

The "Swap" is hatched

  • February 7, 1993: The Press Democrat runs a story with the headline "Park deal could crown hilltop. Lafferty Ranch alternative sought.". Here are some significant excerpts:

"City officials, the (OSD) and at least one unknown player are working on a deal that could result in a regional park on Sonoma Mountain."

"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 week."

"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 question."

  • 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 people.

    "'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 Lafferty.

  • February 18, 1993: The City receives a letter from Peter Pfendler. It begins:

"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 recreational uses."

The letter goes on to describe Moon Ranch and the possible involvement of the OSD in facilitating the swap.

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 officials.

  • March 1, 1993: The proposed Moon for Lafferty swap is announced. The citizens committee to review access to Lafferty is not discussed.

  • September, 1993: 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 properties.

    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.

  • September, 1994: 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.

  • November, 1994: 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.

  • July-August, 1995: 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."

  • September, 1995: 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 campaign sheet."

  • 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, anyone?

  • 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 later.

  • 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 position.

    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.

The "Swap" unravels

  • 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 campaign issue.

  • April 3, 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 private.

  • 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 Ranch (!).

  • 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 the swap..

  • 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 petitions.

  • 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 satisfied properly.

  • 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 tonight."

  • 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" initiative.

  • 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 invalid signatures.

Access, revisited

  • November 7, 1996: The newly empanelled, 17-member Lafferty Access Committee begins work on an access and management plan for the future Lafferty park.

  • 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 park.

  • 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 zoning violation.

  • 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 await extradition.

  • 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 property.

  • 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 anymore.

The 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 probation.

  • 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 period.

  • 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 November.

  • 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"?

  • August 1998: 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 park.

  • September 30, 1998: Peter Pfendler reports to Sonoma County jail and begins serving his 28-day sentence for spousal abuse.

  • 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.

  • Lafferty supporters pick up trash along Sonoma Mountain Road below Lafferty Ranch. Photo by Jason Doiy/Argus-Courier.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 opening Lafferty.

    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: A scathing 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 by Susan 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.)

  • September 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, see

  • December 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.

  • March 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 items.

  • 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 supporters.

  • 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...

  • May 3, 2004: The Petaluma City Council adopts Resolution 2004-074, encouraging state and local agencies to create a park and trail network on Sonoma Mountain to include Lafferty and a Mitsui trail

  • June 21, 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.


Looking 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 cited date.

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