READ QUESTIONED ON MEETING
SAT IN WITH CITY'S LAFFERTY FOES
Published on June 17, 1998
© 1998- The Press Democrat
BYLINE: Tobias Young
Press Democrat Bureau
A Petaluma city councilwoman's presence at a meeting
of the Sonoma Mountain Conservancy, a group locked in a
heated battle with the city over a proposed park on
Lafferty Ranch, is being questioned by some of her
council colleagues and Lafferty partisans.
Councilwoman Nancy Read joined more than 30 people at
a June 9 meeting of the Sonoma Mountain Conservancy, held
in an Adobe Road church. Read said she was there on
behalf of a friend, a Sonoma Mountain resident who was
out of town.
Supervisorial candidate Mike Kerns also went to the
Conservancy meeting to ask the group for its support, he
Two Petaluma City Council members on Monday questioned
the presence of Read at the meeting.
The conservancy has battled the city and its proposed
Lafferty Ranch park near the top of Sonoma Mountain since
its formation about two years ago. Lafferty, a 270-acre
parcel owned by the city, was once the town's main source
Despite its high-profile fight, the Conservancy has
remained relatively secret by declining to identify who
it represents. The only known members are landowners
Peter Pfendler and Conservancy President John Saemann.
Pfendler, who lives next to Lafferty, tried to obtain
the city property in a controversial land swap. The deal
was withdrawn by Pfendler when opposition mounted, and
the council then unanimously voted to pursue a park on
The Conservancy meeting was held on the eve of a court
date initiated by the City Council. The city petitioned
the court to allow public tours of Lafferty for an
environmental review of the park proposal.
At issue was a small strip of land at the gate of
Lafferty in disputed ownership. Sonoma County Superior
Court Judge Lloyd Von Der Mehden struck down the tours,
citing private property rights and risks of damage.
Two citizens and some council members said they felt
it was inappropriate for Read to attend the meeting
during the ongoing battle over Lafferty.
But Read said there is nothing inappropriate about her
presence at the meeting and she was there at the request
of a friend. ``As a council member I go to all kinds of
meetings, all the time,'' she said.
She said it was the first such meeting she had
attended and she did not participate in the discussion.
Councilmen Matt Maguire and David Keller asked the
city manager to place the issue on a future City Council
agenda. Maguire said Read assured him she did not discuss
the city's confidential legal information.
Resident Beth Merideth, during the public comment
period of Monday's meeting, said she fears Read's
presence was jeopardizing to the park.
``That really surprised me,'' said Merideth, a
Lafferty advocate who peppered Read with a list of
questions about the meeting that went unanswered. ``It
concerns me a great deal about our attempt to gain access
Kerns, a Petaluma police sergeant who easily led a
field of seven candidates and will face Petaluma
Councilwoman Jane Hamilton in a November run-off, was at
the meeting to thank some of his supporters and ask for
help in his campaign, he said.
Kerns said he told the group he supports private
property rights and would have an open door to listen to
their concerns as supervisor if he wins the Second
District election, which includes Petaluma.
``He just gave a standard stump speech,'' said Brian
Sobel, adding that Kerns said he was in support of
private property rights in the two-minute speech.
Sobel, who said he is not a member of the conservancy,
is a former Petaluma councilman who is active in
political campaigns as a consultant. He spoke at the
meeting to give a recap of the local election that put
Kerns and Hamilton in the run-off.
Sobel said it made sense for Kerns to go to the
meeting, since Kerns did well in the precinct.
Kerns said he also wanted to hear the Conservancy's
concern over public trails proposed on private property
elsewhere on the mountain. But he said Lafferty is a city
issue, not a county issue. He said he fears it may be
wrongly used as a campaign issue.
``I do not want to see this community polarized again,
like it was last time,'' Kerns said. ``I'm concerned
Kerns said any park on Lafferty should have restricted
public use, possibly even requiring a permit to park at
the site. An open-gate park might lead to security and
fire issues, Kerns said.
``It's something the city has to work out with the
landowners up there,'' Kerns said.