Open Lafferty!

Issue Number 1 April 1997

Open Lafferty is published by Citizens for Lafferty Ranch and a Regional Park, whose steering committee is composed of the following Petalumans: Michele Ahnberg, Janice Cader-Thompson, Sheri Cardo, Doug Daily, Peter DeKramer, Christie Flum, Hank Flum, Bruce Hagen, Laurel Hagen, Scott Hess, Mary Isaak, Deanna Issel, Brian Mealins, Clara Nelson, Lou Olker, Bruce Osterlye, Jerry Price, Robert Ramirez, Nina Rossi, Will Stapp, Tim Talamantes, Yigal Toister and Hank Zucker.

Dealing With CEQA and Legal Challenges

by Hank Zucker

There are three kinds of reports the Lafferty Access Committee could issue in order to comply with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). The first is a Negative Declaration, which notes that the project will not cause any environmental harm. The second is a Mitigated Negative Declaration, which says that the project may cause some environmental harm, but will also create some offsetting environmental benefit.

Petaluma could develop either of these reports in a few months at a cost of about $25,000. These are the reports the Marin Open Space District has done for each of its 20 properties. These reports are suitable for a hiking-only park.

Unfortunately, they are not practical when a project is opposed by a wealthy individual or group. CEQA makes it easy to challenge either type of negative declaration, and a legal challenge could tie up the project, and probably prevent public access for years. (The City could also be held liable for challengersí legal costs in the negative declaration process.) The Sonoma Mountain Conservancy (Peter Pfendler's group) and Al Bettman have each sent a series of legal threats to City Hall already.

These threats force us to do the third kind of report: an Environmental Impact Report (EIR). This type of report could take more than a year and cost as much as $100,000. However, CEQA makes it very tough to challenge an EIR. A challenger could only try to prove that the City did not follow the prescribed process; he or she will not be able to challenge the City's conclusions. An EIR even allows the City to say that there may be some environmental impact, but other considerations are more important. And access would likely be allowed during any challenge.

CEQA was created to prevent commercial developments on environmentally sensitive land. It was not created to keep hikers out of a cow pasture. And it wonít. We will have year-round, unsupervised public access to Lafferty. But Peter Pfendler and his allies may cost the public tens of thousands of dollars that we should not have to spend.

Stapp Snaps: A View From the Flatlands

Join the Open Lafferty Campaign

Several of us had a close encounter with a Give Us the Moon organizer the other night. "Lafferty? Nobody cares about Lafferty," she claimed. "It was all about politics."

Somehow, this woman could not fathom that our community wants access to the unspoiled beauty of Lafferty Ranch as an end in itself. We organized politically as a means to that end and, inadvertently, exposed the need for open government in the process. For her, the Lafferty issue was primarily an exercise in defending an incestuous status quo.

That encounter and our neighbors' intimidation tactics underscore the need to make it loud and clear that Petaluma does care about Lafferty and will have access to its mountaintop. After all, it's a glorious spring and you still can't legally visit your property.

Itís time for an Open Lafferty Campaign. We are starting with the enclosed placard. Copy it. Put it in your car and workplace. Give it to friends. Send it, along with your views, to our City Council members and Supervisor Harberson. Clearly, opponents to access are busy behind the scenes. Let's keep our efforts active where they have proven most effective, out in the open.

Access Committee grinding up the hill

Petaluma's Lafferty Access Commit-tee is slogging through the pain-staking process of opening up our mountaintop. While the pace is a bit slow, the cookies are tasty and the host of characters is intriguing. Join the peanut gallery and you may meet the likes of hired gun, Nick Tibbits. Tibbits is working with Attorney Steve Butler, who represents our neighbor on the mountain, Al Bettman.

Tibbits, a former political aide for Doug Bosco, describes himself as a consultant to individuals who "are having problems with government." Bettman's problem is that his neighbors, the citizens of Petaluma, want to use their property. For this, Bettman has threatened legal recourse.

Stop by. Meetings are held on the second and fourth Wednesdays of every month at 7pm at either Lucchesi Center or the Senior Center (note: the April 9 meeting has been cancelled). Call Warren Salmons at City Hall (778-4345) to receive minutes or upcoming agendas. If you can't make the meetings, check the TV schedule and tune in to cable access channel 61.

Where ís Jim Harberson our County Supervisor???

In the wake of the voter fraud debacle and the subsequent reversal of City policy on Lafferty Ranch, our illustrious county supervisor, Jim Harberson, has disappeared. Well, not entirely: Jim did forward the City Council a list of the standard objections to access to Lafferty.

Three quarters of a year have gone by with neither a peep about alternative sites for a regional park nor genuine help in shepherding Lafferty through the bureaucratic/legal maze. Jim also never bothered to respond to Citizens for Lafferty's written offers to assist in the search for a regional parksite. Meanwhile, the Cloverdale area has scored two future regional parksites paid for in full with Open Space funds.

So, if you think Jim should be more on the ball, let him know. Remind him that he was elected by Petaluma voters and that we expect a proactive supervisor.

Write or call:

Supervisor Jim Harberson
575 Administration Drive
Santa Rosa, CA 95403
(707) 527-2241

The "Pfence": Money talks, justice walks

The group of lawyers and consultants filling the room to rebut the City's appeal over the illegally constructed "pfence" made it perfectly clear that Peter Pfendler and Al Bettman have joined forces. Les Perry, Steve Butler, Nick Tibbits and land use consultant Jean Kapolehok were on hand, and when big bucks talked, justice walked.

Perhaps the appeals board would have decided differently if they had seen the herd of nervous deer trying to skirt the "pfence," as I did recently. Apparently, the destruction and theft of public property (two old oak trees) didn't bother the board, either.

Will Stapp

Keep fighting the good fight

by Bruce Hagen

Getting a little tired of reading about another Lafferty Ranch battle in the newspaper? It's understandable. But we never expected smooth sailing after we passed the Keep Lafferty ordinance and elected a pro-access majority to the City Council.

Our opponents are doing their best to fulfill their prophecy that Lafferty is a property that can't be used. Armed with lawyers, consultants and, apparently, unlimited funds, you can expect them to do all they can to stall, bankrupt and defeat our campaign. We're confident we will have the kind of park at Lafferty we expect and deserve. But it will take some careful and patient perseverance, so don't lose heart and don't give up.

Keep the bigger picture in mind. The primary way our opponents can hope to win is to change the makeup of the next City Council. There seems to be a strategy of discrediting the new majority on the same issues that got them elected: Lafferty and open government. Former Council-member Jack Balshaw and Argus Courier Publisher Dan Zimmerman recently wrote editorials that portrayed the Lafferty Access Committee (and by association, our Council supporters) as ineffectual spendthrifts. Then Mary Stompe blamed David Keller's openness for the problems with the City Manager selection process.

The best way to deal with this is to not let such charges go unchallenged. Write letters to the newspapers and talk to your friends and neighbors about whatís really going on in our town.

Some good changes are finally taking place in our city government let's not lose them.

We don't have deep pockets …

If you've appreciated receiving this newsletter and would like for Open Lafferty to continue to be published, please send a check in whatever amount you can afford to:

Citizens for Lafferty Ranch and a Regional Park

PO Box 237
Petaluma, CA 94953

Thank you!     

Open Lafferty Home           Background