SodaCanyonRoad | Walt Ranch and the Lands of Pedroza
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Walt Ranch and the Lands of Pedroza
Bill Hocker | Mar 28, 2022 on: Walt Ranch


Update 4/1/22
Douglas Weed LTE 4/1/22: Nice guys can be in the wrong

NVR 3/28/22: Fair Political Practices Commission decides to investigate Napa County Supervisor Pedroza

Cio Perez LTE 3/28/22: There is nothing toxic about wanting the truth

Apallas brief submitted on behalf of Beth Nelson to the FPPC and State Attorney General

FPPC acknowledgement that an investigation will be undertaken

Update 3/23/22
NVR 3/23/22: Napa County supervisors learn limits on investigation powers

At the 3/22/22 BOS meeting the Supervisors received a briefing from County Counsel as to their options in dealing with Sup. Pedroza's potential conflict of interest. In terms of in-house investigation, subpoena power that might be needed to fully investigate the issue is generally limited to legistative issues rather than personnel investigations. An outside investigation by an independent body would not have that subpoena power. Only the FPPC is an outside investigator that would have the needed subpoena power. They decided to request a memo from the CC to that effect.

During public comments earlier in the day several public commenters brought up concerns relating to a variety of issues including public integrety and Walt Ranch. Some of the comments were substantial and rather than summarizing them I will include the video of the comments here:

Update 3/18/22
George Caloyannidis LTE 3/18/22: Does Pedroza have a conflict of interest?

Update 3/9/22
NVR 3/9/22: Napa County could discuss its investigation powers
Norm Manzar LTE 3/9/22: What happened to integrity?

In public comments at the 2/8/22 BOS meeting, several speakers reiterated the need for the county to begin an independent outside investigation of Sup. Pedroza's conflict-of-interest. Prolonging the investigation by waiting for the FPPC just allows distrust in the county's ability to police itself to fester and impugns the integrity of the entire board. Beth Nelsen said that now is the time for supervisors to speak up; friends of Sup. Pedroza knew about the land deal last year; did any of the supervisors or county officers know?. The truth will eventually come out.

Update 3/7/22
The latest information on the Vinedos AP saga, including links to a video summary of last week's BOS meeting, the latest documents and information on a rally planned before this weeks's meeting, is available on the napacountycash.com website.

Douglas Weed LTE 2/7/22: We only want the truth
Paul Moser LTE 3/6/22: Pedroza's cloud of smoke
Gordon Heuther LTE 2/28/22: In support of Pedroza

Update 3/3/22
NVR 3/3/22: FPPC deciding its role in Napa Supervisor Pedroza matter

It now appears that the FPPC may take months (ave period 141 days) to conduct an investigation. If a conflict of interest is found, the maximum penalty is a $5000 fine, chump change given Sup. Pedroza's obvious financial resources.

During those months, Sup. Pedroza will have remained in office with the obvious documented evidence of his involvement in financing the project and his attempt to hide it from the county, as well as the public, poisoning every decision he has made and will make in office. The County, in not conducting its own independent investigation now, will be seen by many as being complicit in an effort to delay, if not subvert, justice in this matter. Thus far the county has not acknowledged the one thing that it has the power to do right now: to attest that no county official knew of a land deal adjacent to Walt Ranch, involving a supervisor voting on the project, prior to the Feb 8th meeting. The County needs to begin its own impartial investigation to clear its own name if nothing else. And I would think that if Sup. Pedroza feels innocent in this matter that he too would want a full, unbiased airing of the facts as soon as possible.

Update 3/2/22
Protest at the 3/1/22 BOS meeting
NV2050 3/2/22: Is Our County Leadership Eclipsed by Moneyed Power?
SFChronicle 3/1/22: Controversial Walt Ranch development vote delayed in Napa following protests (text version)
NVR 3/1/22: Napa supervisors decide Walt Ranch needs another hearing
NVR 3/1/22: Napa Supervisor Pedroza defended and criticized amid Vinedos matter
Diversity Watch Video and Summation of the 3/1/22 BOS hearing
County Video of 3/1/22 BOS meeting

At the 3/1/22 BOS meeting, a Motion to Reconsider the Appeal by the Center for Biological Diversity of the BOS approval of Director Morrison's GHG Mitigation plan passed 4-0 (Pedroza recused) and will be reheard by the Board on Apr. 19, 2022, without Sup. Pedroza.

No move was made toward an internal or external investigation, but instead the decision seemed to be to await the determination by the FPPC. At the meeting I heard that the FPPC may need 1-2 weeks to decide to conduct a full investigation based on complaints submitted (some 8 so far) and then the investigation begins.

Kimberly Wilkenson LTE 3/1/22: Napa deserves better

Update 2/28/22
2/28/22: George Caloyannidis Letter to the BOS
30 questions that need answers
[Mr. Caloyannidis has sent a correction to his letter: "Dear Napa County Supervisors,
It has come to my attention that is was not Napa County CEO Minh Tran who redacted Supervisor Pedroza’s signature from the Vinedos property tax checks but rather it was County Counsel.
However, my comments still apply to him because I believe that the Counsel’s job is not to conceal from the public and shield the Supervisors from incriminating evidence.
My apologies to Mr. Tran."]

Update 2/27/22
SFChronicle 2/27/22: A wealthy family’s plans for a Napa vineyard have exploded into controversy. The outcome could define the valley’s future (text version)
NVR 2/27/22: Walt Ranch mitigations returns to Napa Board of Supervisors on Tuesday
LTE statement by G/VfRA 2/25/22: A government that works for all of us

At the BOS meeting on Tues, Mar. 1, 2022, at 2:00pm, the Supervisors will entertain a "reconsideration" of their tentative denial of the appeal to the Walt Ranch mitigation plan.

From the agenda:
    "County Counsel recommends reconsideration of the tentative action on the appeal filed by Center for Biological Diversity (Appellant) of a decision by the Director of the Napa County Department of Planning, Building and Environmental Services on October 6, 2021... Staff also recommends setting a new hearing date for the appeal on March 22, 2022"

From the executive summary:
    After the tentative action, and before the adoption of the Resolution, the County became aware of allegations that Supervisor Pedroza, who was Chair of the Board during the appeal process, may have had a disqualifying conflict of interest. Out of an abundance of caution, Supervisor Pedroza recused himself from consideration of the item on February 8, 2022, and the Board continued the matter to allow time for an inquiry into the allegations. While that inquiry is ongoing and no conclusions have been reached, staff believes the most prudent approach to this matter would be to conduct a new prehearing conference and a new public hearing to reconsider the tentative action.

Notably the executative summmary indicates that "Chair invites public comment limited to the Board’s reconsideration." Many people may be wishing to provide public comment, more about Sup. Pedroza's potential conflict of interest, I suspect, than the reconsideration motion. It may mean that open comments at the 9:00 beginning of the meeting may be filled with conflict of interest statements if they are not allowed later.

3/1/22 BOS Agenda and documents (page 7)
Staff Executive Summary of agenda item
A link to the live video will be here on Tues.

Update 2/22/22
Beth Nelson LTE 2/22/22: Pedroza should resign

Beth Nelson's letter contains perhaps the most serious allegation in this questionable affair thus far: that members of the county bureaucracy, in redacting the signature on a tax payment, were complicit in Sup. Pedroza's attempt to conceal his involvement in the Vinedos land deal. It begs the question: what did the County know and when did they know it?

It is hard to believe, given that the county tax assessor received property tax payments for Vinedos AP LLC directly from Sup. Pedroza, that members of the county government were totally unaware of his involvement in a land deal that posed a potential conflict of interest. It would seem that, in addition to an internal investigation to determine why Sup Pedroza did not recuse himself from the original vote on the appeal, an outside and independant investigation of this affair is now mandatory.

Update 2/16/22
NVR 2/15/22: Napa County's next steps on Walt Ranch look hazy

The discussion would seem to be the necessity to redo the tree replacement mitigation plan should the Supes split on the finalization vote. To many, however, this is yet another opportunity to revisit the decision to approve the project in the first place. It is a project that has created bitter divisions in the county for 8 years, divisions over the role of preservation versus development, the existential impacts of global warming, overall county urbanization and now potential political corruption. Numerous rancorous hearings, public protests, a pan-county community organization, an election initiative and a new (but ineffective) ordinance arose directly from the project.

A recent editorial by civic leaders in Napa's municipalities seems timed and aimed specifically at the negative impact that a project like Walt Ranch represents to the long term interests of Napa County. The county should take this opportunity to reconsider this project (and, I must add, similar projects like Mountain Peak), in terms of the benefit it provides to a small number of wealthy investors against the larger deliterious impact it has had, and will continue to have, on the county's future in a drier world.

Dan Mufson LTE 2/19/22: Feeling 'angry, let down and used'
Scott Sedgley et al LTE 2/16/22: Protect our local watershed

Update 2/15/22
Beth Nelson has sent a second letter to the FPPC to add more documentation on tax payments on the 6 properties. She has also produced a website devoted to her research on Sup. Pedroza's financial dealings including a document archive. It is

napacountycash.com

Also this Letter-to-the-editor by Lisa Seran is an extremely clear statement of the issues surrounding Sup. Pedroza's conflict of interest:

Lisa Seran LTE 2/15/22: Pedroza stands to benefit from Walt Ranch
Iris Barrie LTE 2/14/22: Hold elected officials accountable

Update 2/11/22
NVR 2/11/22: Napa Supervisor Alfredo Pedroza talks about conflict-of-interest allegation

From the article:
Pedroza was asked if his only role in the land deal was using his house as a guarantee for refinancing.

"That was it. Again, there is no financial gain, there is no benefit that (myself and my wife) realize from this," he said.

But, given the controversial nature of the Walt Ranch issues that have gone on for years, why didn't Pedroza seek county counsel's opinion on a conflict-of-interest before the Dec. 14 vote? Pedroza didn't mention the land deal at the time.

"There's no direct benefit," he said
,

Move along, nothing to see here.

The FPPC has apparently informed Sup. Pedroza informally that based on his presentation of the case to them, ownership of adjacent land by his father-in-law does not constitute a conflict-of-interest. Left out of his presentation were the loans and payments he made personally to secure the purchase of the property and his personal payments to cover property taxes on the parcels. The quick (1-2 day) turnaround in their response, in a case that has a pretty strong odor, makes one wonder how careful their initial vetting was. A complaint filed by Beth Nelson is in process.

The county conducted two investigations, one internal and one external, into Sup. Ramos' spur-of-the-moment Covid jab. Let's see how diligent they are in finding out why they didn't know about Sup. Pedroza's financing of a major land deal next to a project he was voting on. (And maybe, while they are at it, why Poppy Bank would give him a $2.7 mil loan on a $1.3 mil house. Or how members of Sup. Pedroza's family could buy 405 acres of land with 124 acres of entitled vineyard blocks for a mere $2 mil. - also saving themselves years of fees, consultants and litigation.)

Napa County Code of Ethics 2005
Circle S Ranch DEIR 2008

Update 2/8/22
Winebusiness 2/9/22: Last Minute Glitch Delays Final Approval of Walt Ranch Vineyard Project in Napa Valley
NVR 2/8/22: Napa County delays Walt Ranch hearing amid conflict-of-interest allegations

Diversity Watch Video and Summation of the 2/8/22 BOS hearing
County Video of 2/8/22 BOS meeting

As the meeting item began, no doubt after private discussion between the Board and staff, Sup. Pedroza immediately recused himself over concerns about the "property my father-in-law owns" and left the room.

County Counsel recognized that this issue was different from the campaign contribution complaints that the citizenry have always seen as a conflict of interest but that the county (and perhaps all governments) consider business-as-usual. The County Counsel agreed to look into the allegations of conflict of interest and to provide information to the State Fair Political Practices Commisssion (FPPC) that would take the lead in any investigation of conflicts of interest.

In recognition of the rarity of the action, public commenters thanked the County Counsel and the Board for taking the concerns of citizens seriously for a change. Several spoke to the need to look retroactively at the approval process to see if votes needed to be thrown out. Kellie Anderson, after summarizing the case earlier in the morning, expanded on a different concern by envisioning a "gold rush" of land development in the eastern county that might result from the Berryessa resort projects currently being shepherded by the Supes. Is this the insider skulduggery of large scale land speculation often the subject of novels and films?

Sup. Ramos, having endured her own ethics investigation, was the most direct in visioning the process going forward. The appeal finalization must be made within 90 days of decision? If there is a finding of conflict of interest will the entire Walt Ranch approval process need to be redone? Shouldn't an outside counsel be appointed rather than the County Counsel to look into the matter? Shouldn't the County Counsel also bring the matter to the FPPC?

The question no one asked which could have been answered on the spot: given the potential appearance of a conflict of interest, did anyone in the County government (beyond the County Assessor), know about a major land deal, involving a supervisor, adjacent to a project that he was voting to approve? If they did, why wasn't this disclosed at some point in the Walt Ranch appeal process? If not, why would Supervisor Pedroza hide it, except to hide what he knew was a conflict?

The Board voted 4-0 to continue the finalization of the appeal denial to March 1st, 2022, with the County Counsel to assist the FPPC where needed in the conflict of interest allegation. The are many questions needing answers.

Original Post 2/7/22

On Feb. 8, 2022, at 11:00am the Napa County Board of Supervisors will be finalizing the denial of an appeal of the Walt Ranch vineyard conversion project. Public comment related to the issue in this post will be taken at that time.

It has long been known that Supervisor Alfredo Pedroza has a dogged determination to promote development in the face of staunch opposition from residents of the county. With the Walt Ranch development it has always seemed to go beyond just the case of a major donor with a project to be approved, a fairly common occurance in the county. A more direct connection has now been proposed. Elaine de Man and sends along this analysis from Beth Nelson, with documentation, of an apparent connection between Sup. Pedroza and the ownership of properties adjacent to the Walt Ranch development.

As can be seen on the map, the parcels in question, totalling 405 acres, form a link between Walt Ranch and Atlas Peak Road that shortens the distance between some Walt Ranch properties and the Napa Valley, a link that might prove financially benificial to both entities. Shared management of the vineyards might also be financially advantageous. And, of course, the increased property value of adjacent land once Walt Ranch is developed.

We remember that Planning Commissioner Heather Phillips was compelled to recuse herself from deliberation on the Yountville Hill project because her property was seen as being close, though not adjacent, to the project site. Sup. Pedroza would seem to have a much clearer conflict of interest here. Elaine de Man writes:

Supervisor Alfredo Pedroza's support of Walt Ranch was always presumed to be for the benefit of his major donors, Texas billionaires Craig and Kathryn Hall. However, documents recently uncovered reveal that Pedroza's support of Walt Ranch also includes benefits to members of his immediate family, if not himself. This new information may be sufficient to have Pedroza recused from any dialogue or decision regarding Walt Ranch. It may also be sufficient to have Pedroza’s vote to overturn the Center for Biological Diversity’s appeal against Walt Ranch, made last December, disqualified. It could also lead to a successful recall.

Documents on file at the county tax assessor's office, along with the attached Short Report, reveal that six parcels comprising more than 405 acres immediately adjacent to Walt Ranch were sold for $2,000,000 to an entity called Vinedos AP, LLC on May 28, 2021. The sellers were: Circle R Ranch, LLC; Foss Valley Ranch, LLC: and Rocking R Ranch, LLC. All three LLC's are controlled by Peter Read.

The Articles of Organization for Vinedos AP, LLC were filed with the California Secretary of State on January 29, 2021. The Statement of Information (attached) for Vinedos AP, LLC, filed March 17, 2021, lists Esteban Llamas as the manager of the LLC. Esteban Llamas is the father of Brenda Llamas Pedroza, the wife of Supervisor Alfredo Pedroza. As Supervisor Pedroza's father-in-law, Esteban Llamas is a member of Pedroza's immediate family.

The Statement of Information also lists the business address for Vinedos AP as 1241 Adams Street, MP 1022. This is a mailbox at the Adams Street Shipping Center in St. Helena.
However, the Grant Deed (attached) for the sale of the 6 parcels to Vinedos AP, LLC was mailed to the personal residence of Supervisor Pedroza, at 332 Troon Ave. in Napa. It was not mailed to the business address for Vinedos AP. Nor was it mailed to the home or business address of its manager, Esteban Llamas. Additionally, no alternative address was given for the mailing if any tax statements related to the deed other than Supervisor Alfredo Pedroza’s home address.

The Deed of Trust related to the 6 properties adjacent to Walt Ranch, filed May 28, 2021, lists the Trustor as: Vinedos AP, LLC, a California limited liability company whose address is 332 Troon Drive, Napa CA 94558. This is the home of Supervisor Alfredo Pedroza.

The Deed of Trust is signed by Esteban Llamas, Manager of Vinedos AP, LLC. The original mortgage on the Vinedos AP parcels was held by the seller, Circle R Ranch, for $1,700,000.
Six months after the initial purchase, on October 12, 2021, Vinedos AP, LLC refinanced its six parcels adjacent to Walt Ranch, for $2,700,000, as shown in the attached History Report and Deed of Trust Poppy Bank. Presumably, after paying off Circle R Ranch, Vinedos AP came away from this transaction with close to $1,000,000 in cash and is $2,700,000 in debt to Poppy Bank, a debt that is secured by the six parcels adjacent to Walt Ranch.

These records indicate that Supervisor Alfredo Pedroza and/or his father-in-law have a vested interest in the outcome of any Walt Ranch decision. Should Walt Ranch be finally approved, any adjacent properties, including the 6 parcels owned by Vinedos AP, will increase in value and attain certain benefits, including any public or private services brought to the Walt Ranch property. Indeed, the BOS meeting of December 14, 2021, was the last meeting at which Pedroza was the chairman of the Board of Supervisors and set the meeting’s agenda in which he cast the deciding vote in favor of Walt Ranch.

Under the California Political Reform Act (Government Code §§ 81000 - 91014 and §§ 18110 - 18997 of Title 2 of the California Code of Regulations) a public official has a disqualifying conflict of interest in a governmental decision if it is foreseeable that the decision will have a financial impact on his or her personal finances or other financial interests. In such cases, there is a risk of biased decision-making that could sacrifice the public’s interest in favor of the official’s private financial interests. To avoid actual bias or the appearance of possible improprieties, the public official is prohibited from participating in the decision. The federal conflict of interest rules are found at 18 U.S.C. § 208 with implementing regulations at 5 C.F.R. § 2635.402.

Given that Supervisor Pedroza has a disqualifying conflict of interest in Walt Ranch, we are asking:

1) That Supervisor Alfredo Pedroza be prohibited from participating in any further discussion or decision related to Walt Ranch.

2) That the decision to deny the appeal of the Center for Biological Diversity, made December 14, 2021 be rescinded, as the deciding vote was made by a supervisor with a disqualifying conflict of interest.

3) That any further discussion or decision regarding Walt Ranch by the Board of Supervisors be tabled pending further investigation into Supervisor Pedroza’s conflicts of interest.

4) That Supervisor Pedroza be censured by the other members of the Board of Supervisors for not disclosing his disqualifying conflict of interest from his financial interest, and the interest of his father-in-law, Esteban Llamas, in Vinedos AP, LLC and the potential for financial gain.

Documents
2/1/22 Placer Deed of Trust with assignments
2/1/22 Placer Subordination Agreement
10/21/21 Troon Dr History Report
9/20/21 Poppy Bank $2.7 mil Deed of Trust
5/28/21 Asssessors Short Report 6 parcels
5/25/21 Placer Grant Deed Property Descriptions
5/20/21 Placer $1.7 mil Deed of Trust
10/12/21 032-160-084-000 History Report
3/17/21 Vinedos AP LLC Statement of Information
1/29/21 Vinedos Articles of Organization
Alfredo Pedroza Campaign Contributions 2016-22
Beth Nelson LTE



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