From the waterfront....
|Heads Up for the Next Venture to Hit the Fan in Napa!
It's Judge Newsom's Carneros Inn Slated January 22.
As if Napa County's residents are not already reeling from revelations of corruption found by the Court of Appeals in the Updated Airport Specific Plan, and Montalcino Inn as reported earlier, up comes another project that stinks even more -- this one involving a Justice of the Court of Appeals as an investor. Maybe he can quell the storm by encouraging withdrawal of the project -- selling out development rights so the area is protected.
Carneros Inn looks like a gentrification and town-creation scheme, a plan to remove affordable mobile homes from the premier Carneros Appellation District and create a luxury hotel anchoring a new town.
Today we discovered his honor's group intends to violate their current use permit by creating a subdivision of 24 homes for sale. Note the architect for the project is already touting (and has already been paid, no doubt, to design the homes). Go to his website (William Rawn, Boston Click.). Would it not be a kick to discover the homes have been pre-sold and form the basis for the investor's equity contribution to support their recent loans? It is little wonder developer Keith Rogal in a recent article said he would be living at the site and managing the development.
The existing affordable homes, a market, and a restaurant (now closed) dot several parcels of land in an area surrounded by properties zoned ag watershed and ag preserve. This is the premier Carneros Appellation, where the development will add more than 2,000 auto-trips per day to clog Old Sonoma Road in the heart of Napa Carneros, stifling agricultural operations, draining area wells, endangering fruit quality, and virtually condemning the area to urbanization.
At one time, Rene di Rosa led the charge to "clean up junkville". Congressman Mike Thompson reputedly "tipped the judge off" to a couple of unique parcels of land zoned commercial, and exempt from voter mandate (Measure J) in the Carneros. Napa County's voters, because of Measure J, have rejected every new development scheme on land designated ag, watershed, or open space. Some 85% of voters rejected a prior scheme at another of Napa's portals.
Yet there are a handful of parcels that were permitted exemption from Measure J challenges. Judge Newsom is correct that some of the parcels for his project are exempt. After all, he says, he wrote the opinion for Measure J (Click.).
Judge Newsom's problem is that he didn't do his homework re: the developer, who is angling to weaken our land use laws, and evidently has little regard for the county's General Plan. Many believe it is high time Judge Newsom do his homework, and study the pattern of corruption of Napa County's land use laws. In fact, a recent report finds that in the past 15 years, despite Measure J, mysteriously 3,000 acres of ag land have disappeared. Now fathom that. Why not explore why? See "The Napa Sentinel" November 2, 2001.
As noted by Commissioner Jim King on August 1 "Measure J presented him with some discomfort. Agricultural protection is so tenuous," he said.
Judge Newsom can start with his own project as he courses through his investigation. A parcel the developer plans to include in the resort scheme is NOT exempt. An approval of this Use Permit that over-reaches and includes a parcel designated ag-watershed would erode the protection accorded all properties designated ag or ag watershed, setting a new precedent in circumvention of carefully crafted codes. And it could accord this development a right to continue doing the same -- over-reaching through a modification of this Use Permit to gobble up more precious rural residential and farmland.
This type of scheme was addressed in the Montalcino Resort matter, which attempted to do the same thing, by counsel for California Farm Bureau Federation on July 31 and by letter October 4. Perhaps Judge Newsom will review County Counsel's and Staff's position and that of the Board of Supervisors in HCV Pacific Partners (Montalcino Inn) October 9. The application for a single Use Permit spanning disparate zoning and designations is a "no-no" as indicated in a letter from County Counsel's office to developer HCV Pacific Partners August 7, 1998 that was widely quoted October 9.
First Judge Newsom can examine various names used for the project, and ruses by the developer. The Carneros Inn deal has some twists from the beginning. Developer Keith Rogal refers to the project as Carneros Lodge -- there's no such thing, at least formally, no trade name. The Use Permit applicant is Carneros Partners, Inc., about which we will comment later. But can Judge Newsom find evidence that Carneros Partners, Inc., the applicant before the Board, has ever existed?
Rogal's first scheme, aside from name obfuscation, was to seek approval on a 16.1-acre parcel to develop a 45-seat restaurant, and wine tasting center, 96 RV or "portable cottage" hookups and 24 mobile homes. A restaurant sits on the site, and the project appeared simply as an "upgrade" that would be accomplished by low-keyed partners interested in providing digs for "affordable tourism."
Rogal's plan included a huge waste treatment facility that provided capacity far in excess of the needs of the project, while he didn't disclose the much more intense inn project. The primary goal of the development was kept secret from planning and perhaps other county arms, and obviously kept secret from the many residents who objected to the development more than a year ago. So unwittingly, the over-engineered waste treatment facility was approved.
Indeed, the Environmental Impact Reports were flawed. Despite objections for lack of water in the area, traffic, the creation of a new destination venue for a non-essential industry, congestion, and a range of issues that can't be mitigated, the project was approved.
Following that approval, up came another request, this one to develop a 100-room resort featuring a large pool, a 5,000 square foot retail shop complex, a post office, a 10,000 square foot public town square, a 100-seat restaurant, with a need to "toss in" a non-contiguous parcel of land zoned ag-watershed for use as a driveway. A-1 Market currently graces the site.
Throughout, transcripts show that the developer asserted "the ownership is different but the management will be the same" for both the previously approved RV and Inn operations. A review of deeds, however, proves this was not the case. The parcels are all owned by Carneros Inn, LLC, and their acquisition was completed by October, 2000. The single parcel that is not owned by the Inn is 1.94 acres zoned ag-watershed. This parcel, in part an intended new "street", is owned by developer Keith Rogal.
The plan furthermore establishes a sewage district in concept serving multiple parcels, with waste for the inn handled by a facility approved earlier. Rogal's office in San Francisco is next to that of an organization that "plans new towns" and his project designs are consistent with their visions.
Meanwhile, in July 2001 a definitive report on this type of URBAN SPRAWL was completed by Dr. Robert Wassmer for use by the State Senate, offering ways to stop this practice by greed-driven county boards of supervisors out for retail taxes (Click.)
To make matters even more problematic for Supervisors, Assessor John Tuteur announced in July that Napa County has the highest assessed property value per capita in the state of California. (Click.) This tiny county's tax roll increased $1.62 billion year-to-year. It sustains itself well without need of Carneros Inn. To argue they need the money would be a bold-faced lie on the part of the Supervisors hearing this matter. There is no fiscal justification. This is a county that didn't need to float a bond to build an elaborate courts building.
Keith Rogal's parcel is controversial in more than just land designation and their intended use that would set a precedent. It is located at 5240 Old Sonoma Road, Napa and has an old home on it. Rogal lives in San Francisco, and despite this, much like former U.S. Attorney Michael Yamaguchi who was forced to step down from a judicial appointment for the same reason, Rogal claims a $7,000 homeowners exemption on the parcel. Looks as though he's been defrauding the county of taxes just as Yamaguchi did in Truckee (Placer County). What some people won't do to save $70 a year and maybe falsely qualify for "owner occupied" mortgage financing? Again, oversight possibly ... but the problems of this practice are well-described by county and state officials in the article about Mr. Yamaguchi's woes. (Click.)
But it gets potentially slimy.
The Napa County Planning Commission on August 1, 2001 gave the green light to this project. However, records show the Use Permit applicant, Carneros Partners, Inc., doesn't exist and never has! The county has just been notified of this "small problem," provided with a status report from Sacramento obtained last week.
What one finds at the Secretary of State online site are the following:
||CARNEROS PARNERS, LLC
||CARNEROS INN, LLC
||CARNEROS COURTYARD HOMES, LLC
While there are a few typos, what does this tell us? It looks as though an LLC (vs. a corporation) Carneros Partners was formed February 5, 1998, and that Carneros Inn, LLC and Carneros Courtyard Homes, LLC were both formed (1) after the Use Permit was approved 8/1/01 and (2) after the APPEAL was filed by Get-A-Grip-on-Growth. Again, just as in the Montalcino case, we find a developer who seems to KNOW that his project will be approved by the Board of Supervisors, suggesting they are already bought into the deal. It's clear that Supervisor Dodd is, because recently Rogal stated to the press that if water is a problem, he'd buy potable water and have it delivered to the site. Dodd is wired into Culligan and should be recusing from all of these resort projects that promise to provide their guests with bottled water and on-site delivered potable water when the well runs dry. But why would he? After all, a Steefel law firm partner contributed to his campaign.
Meanwhile, Friday, November 2, as a scout was checking records in Sacramento, Get-A-Grip was nearly conceding the project will likely be approved to "The Napa Valley Register." When most needed to save the county, it appears the Appellant is ready to roll over when it is well known there isn't water to support the project -- and that it is a violation of our general plan to create a new town. But this isn't the case -- armed with new discovery, events may help Appellants move to nix the project.
So what did the records prove? Carneros Partners LLC didn't originate February 5, 1998 as reflected above -- it originated September 6, 2001! It is a name change for one Carneros Inn LLC formed by developer Keith Rogal on 2/5/98. Once the name of the origin LLC was changed, Rogal established a new Carneros Inn, LLC. All properties and all debts for this outrageous project were obtained between 1998 and August 22, 2001 in the name of the original Carneros Inn, LLC which holds titles and lien encumbrances for funds provided by First Republic Bank ($1.4 million) and recently by Cascade Acceptance Corp., a Harvey Glaser-related mortgage brokerage operation in Mill Valley. Cascade provided $1.8 million on March 27 BEFORE approval, and another $600,000 on August 16, some two weeks AFTER approval by the Planning Commission, and while Rogal knew an Appeal had been filed!
Maybe the fruits of Judge Newsom's investigation would illuminate the purpose of the newly created Carneros Courtyard Homes LLC.
About the same time the last financing was secured, Carneros Inn investor, Judge William Newsom, came into the sunshine during the course of the hearing, asserting August 19 that his project is exempt from Measure J. So he's giving legal advice to the Planning Commission while having a vested interest (Click.) Measure J was a voter initiative that requires all projects proposed for land designed ag, watershed or open space to be taken before voters. Voters have rejected all previous developments of these lands in Napa County for homes, resorts, golf courses, including the Stanly Ranch, not two miles from the Carneros Inn LLC properties. And they have vehemently objected to this project which removes affordable housing. There are signs everywhere "Keep Carneros Country."
Judge Newsom, who indicated he had reviewed and upheld Measure J, is correct though with respect to some of the land parcels included in the dubious Use Permit application. But his project is in violation of the General Plan, since it is actually a town that could sprawl for miles with inclusion of the ag-watershed parcel. Our General Plan doesn't permit this. If Carneros Inn could take a parcel and purchase it from Rogel for a drive, a precedent is established that would be frightfully difficult if not impossible to stop. Carneros Inn includes full services, new streets through ag-watershed land, a sewage district in concept, a post office, town center, residences (the mobile homes), retail shops, restaurants, wine tasting center, hotel/pool and a post office -- how could he say this isn't a town? They even need a traffic signal and A-1 Market sits on one of the parcels.
Note that with respect to Rogal and the Use Permit problem, Judge Newsom is distanced from liability -- after all, he's an investor in Carneros Inn, LLC so he hasn't done anything wrong. Carneros Inn LLC has never even applied for the Use Permit. According to the Clerk of the Board on October 29, the applicant subject to appeal is Carneros Partners, Inc. But this doesn't mean investors are distanced from the scandal, that's for sure, and Judge Newsom could certainly help with a thorough investigation. But it remains distressing that the project would remove affordable housing which is so lacking in Napa County. There isn't even an inventory of moderately priced homes.
And Rogal was involved in even more capers. On July 2, one month before the hearing, he attended a Napa County Resource Conservation District Carneros Creek Stewards meeting. On that date a hydrologist with the USGS and another from Public Works explained the water-sensitivity of the district. Historic records showed (and people testified at Planning Commission hearings) that use of water from one well affects the output of other wells, and that the Carneros is even more water-scarce than the Coombsville area. Coombsville residents have metered their wells to slow their flows because they simply run out of water at times. This scarcity in Carneros is the primary reason the area historically remains agricultural. Indeed, those with vineyards have extensive ponds of diverted rain run-off to sustain their irrigation needs for there is precious little ground water and the basins are shallow, not deep. Rogal knew from that meeting that it will be 2 to 3 years before the hydrology studies will be completed. To prove the above, and that Rogal attended this meeting, you can read the minutes (Click.).
So what did Rogal do? He rushed out and found a groundwater geologist to appear at the hearing who said the opposite! This person's name isn't listed in the minutes of the July 2 meeting. (Click.).Rogal rushed his project through planning, devoid of adequate or complete reports from Public Works, and Environmental Health, substituting his expert report in order to have his project approved by the Planning Commission! And the Environmental Impact Report is flawed and was challenged. No matter all of the objections, the project was approved by the Commission August 1, with the voice of speakers appearing before the Planning Commission with vested profit interests drowning out opponents. And on August 19, Rogal's letter appeared in the Napa Valley Register stating the EIR found no flaws! There's another bold-faced misrepresentation. (Click.)
But what did 3 Justices of the Court of Appeal find just two days later, on August 3? In Citizens for Honest Government and City of American Canyon v. County of Napa the court found corruption -- "abuse of discretion" by the County Board of Supervisors in October 1998. The case is a landmark in upholding Napa County's General Plan. This ruling, which rejects an Updated Airport Specific Plan, just killed two other resort and luxury home development projects (Mai Chardonnay and The Doctor's Company) where Montalcino Resort's Randall Verrue and HCV Pacific Partners had a hand. To read a brief about this decision (Click.). No matter that Napa County, represented by Miller, Starr & Regalia, asserted it would have the matter heard by the Supreme Court -- the Court refused to do so on October 24, so the decision stands.
Maybe we can understand how the county's residents have been hit with all of these deals at one time. All of the underlying LLCs behind the developers, including this Carneros Inn scheme, originated within the first two weeks of February, 1998 -- when Michael Eisner also tipped everyone off in his "Work in Progress" that his plans for Disney historyland theme parks were full speed ahead. That may have set in motion awesome decisions in the Court of Appeals in San Francisco.
In fact, there is a case that had been rejected several times by judges connected to the Wine Society for Judges and Attorneys in San Francisco that was founded by Ron Larson of Steefel, Levitt & Weiss, according to his bio. At first the judges observed black letter law. But as 1998 broke, and Napa resort projects sprang forth, the court reversed its position, and invited oral argument. Though served with proof the complaint was untruthful and the case had no merit, Steefel kept up with its false litigation and seemed to rely heavily on a divorce case which had little applicability. As a result, valuable land in the county was converted to dupes financed by a client of the Steefel firm -- land valuable for its access to and view of Napa's historic settings. Needless to say, it would be essential to any plan Disney might have to develop a historyland theme park to find any recent case of ag land conversion to advance its cause.
Steefel was also involved in formation of Montalcino Resort Investments, Inc., with a mailing address in Vancouver, B.C. Furthermore, in order to get his blessing to form HCV Napa Associates (Montalcino Resort), developer Randall Verrue had to get consent from the LLC that controls Hyatt Regency in Sacramento. A call to Hyatt confirmed they have a relationship (through their accounting office) with both HCV and the Pacific Union Company-related HVC deals. Verrue asserts there is no Hyatt relationship in the Montalcino project, but there's definitely a connectedness shown at his own website. (Click.) Meanwhile, the case that was shockingly heard and argued by Steefel (replete with known lies) virtually broke a statute that was black letter law for more than 100 years in California and threw the probate bar into distress. No matter one of the judges owned vineyards in Napa and affiants for the complaining party were associated with two wineries known to the judge. At the lower court level, forget it, the conversion was accomplished through dubious attorneys who suddenly showed allegiance to Steefel interests while artfully making sure that evidence was not "available."
All of the above shows brashness and clout that didn't sway the Justices in the Updated Airport Specific Plan scheme. Indeed, they were not influence peddled into corruption of our county's land use or other laws.
The findings included many observations of the Board of Supervisors approving the plan without any facts with reference to many issues, and contrary to facts on other issues. Justices found "abuse of discretion" in a scheme that would have violated our General Plan. The justices upheld the lower court's findings by Judge Richard Bennett and added a few of their own. The opinion was written by Justice William Stein, concurring were Justices Gary Strankman and James Marchiano.
Seems we have a repeat pattern of "abuse of discretion" and land use violations by the Planning Commission and the some of the Supervisors in Montalcino Resort (Supervisors Dodd and Luce who voted for the project despite admissions of bid-price rigging and other corruption) and now will they add Carneros Inn?
Highly regarded writers who track the ins and outs of families such as Pritzker and Bass, and their corporations such as Hyatt and Walt Disney, would have a field day with this one. The New York Times has reported in the past month on various regulatory and federal probes. As a recent ruse to cover up what is indeed an extensive investigation into the inner workings of Walt Disney corporation by the SEC, among others, Michael Eisner contacted the Governor and offered Disneyland as a setting for a high-level meeting last week to explore ways to bail out the travel and tourism industry.
Judge Newsom did attend the Commission hearings in Napa County, though he is a passive investor. Writers are present taking copious notes. People attending recent hearings referred to Rick Foglesong's "Married to the Mouse" that shows how Walt Disney corrupted politicians in its land grabs in Florida through ruses set up by one-time Miami CIA Station Chief Paul G. Helliwell. This book was released in July. And "In Banks We Trust" is another headline grabber: Paul G. Helliwell also facilitated the Pritzkers in the Castle Bank scheme, a noteworthy scandal, while the Federal Government told the family in July (NY Times) they aren't getting away with their most recent bank collapse, Superior Bank, Illinois -- the government expects a $376 million cash infusion. The Bass Brothers know the walk, but are in meltdown financially, now requested to talk about their secreted controlling interests in Walt Disney Corp. Carneros Inn has an aura of "smoke and mirrors" that causes eyebrows to raise.
As a project, Carneros Inn just doesn't make it. It's dependent on a short supply of well water, among other limitations. In 1991, during the drought, Meadowood lost its wells. It's located in the county. Because its properties, however, border Silverado Trail, and the City of St. Helena had water mains across the road, the hookup was easy to accomplish. But area residents continued to suffer, and in town residents were in Phase II water restriction when the hookup was made. Indeed, it is evidenced in recorded documents but the matter was never on the City's agenda and the public still isn't aware of this. Meadowood had 86 rooms; Carneros Inn intends to have 100 rooms and all of the other features noted, including the 10,000 square foot Town Center with post office, locked into 8.5 acres. It is the most intense of any resort development in Napa County -- and it's miles from municipal water.
Neighbors have valid concerns about losing THEIR OWN NEIGHBORS, their water and property to the resort. Neighbors of Meadowood who had no history of losing all of their water indeed found their wells faltering in 1991. Drilling deeper doesn't always net pay dirt.
Maybe Judge Newsom can appear January 22 and keep the Board of Supervisors from "abusing discretion" once again. A comparative analysis finds this project to be extraordinarily deficient compared to the rejected Montalcino. Water use will be 40,000 gallons/day on an on-going basis until the well runs dry; there are no alternative sources; congestion will occur and can't be mitigated. How could he possibly reconcile the preponderance of findings since August 1? Indeed, rather curiously, on July 31 in the Montalcino Resort case the admission of counsel for the developer that he was providing legal advice to the Napa Sanitation District was met with no small measure of alarm.
Indeed, there have been changes in planning department personnel, including the Planner who wrote the Carneros Inn Staff Report with a "pro resort" bias -- he's gone, gone, gone. Furthermore, if you go back to the minutes of the Carneros Creek Stewards you will note David Graves attending the July 2 meeting with Keith Rogal. And who is David Graves? Why, he's on the Planning Commission and voted to approve this project despite knowing of the fragility of the area.
As the Justices state in Citizens for Honest Government, how could something be approved with so many problems for which there are no solutions? In the case of Carneros Inn, how could the Board find an "over-riding consideration" of "well, it looks nice" as justification for approving a project so deficient in every facet of infrastructure? So intense and intrusive? So violative of codes and the General Plan? It's magical thinking to envision an aquaduct serving the site -- and then if there is one years down the road, sprawl goes the town. As the Montalcino Resort vote showed, Napa County is not the building trades answer to the unemployment problems of Solano and Contra Costa counties. Napa remains unique because of its citizen-promulgated land use laws.
This project rambles far from the intent of the General Plan, though it is in keeping with Wine Institute President John DeLuca's vision: "We're moving the grape growing up to Washington State. We need all this area for houses" (December 8, 2000 at Carneros-based RMS Distillery). There he was joined by Bill Lockyer who envisions a city the size of Chicago, his favorite city, launched in California in the next 15 years. (This is Bill's way of illustrating that state population will increase significantly in the next 15 years, placing more demands on housing. If you don't create jobs, an economist can assure you, this doesn't necessarily happen.) Again, both paid tribute to their mentor, former pro-development S. F. Mayor Joe Alioto and were hugging away with Steefel's Ron Larson. Seems the development word spreads like wildfire.
Don't forget, Bill Lockyer was sworn in and the resort ideas sallied forth, while he remains preoccupied with how to handle "all these people." On December 8 he commented on the sheer volume of cases in which the state is named as a defendant -- 51,000. Too bad folks, if you need to have something investigated by his office, the message seemed to be "we're pretty busy already."
Judge Newsom has a lot of explaining to do to other investors. He can reverse the tide, and bring sunshine -- encouraging investors to sell out development rights to the County of Napa to "Keep Carneros Country." Between now and January 22 there are many subsequent developments and areas open for him to explore. Offering legal advice to the Board of Supervisors shouldn't be in the cards, regardless of who is chairing the Board of Supervisors come January. This is one of those unique circumstances in which there is nothing improper about paying a judge and associated investors for their development rights. But those development rights are cheap -- after all, Rogal and his crew have defrauded the county out of hundreds of hours of payroll over months by submitting a fraudulent application. They should instead get the boot right out of the county, with their rights to development gone forever for this escapade. The boys deserve to take some losses for this one ... let their 'investors' then take them to court for recourse.
Themes indeed do run through these deals. In this case we find Willie Brown as a central figure in relationships - Mike Thompson was a member of his staff before ascending to the house of representatives and reputedly tipped Judge Newsom off to the unique parcels; Judge Newsom's son was a major fundraiser for Willie brown, and indeed, Willie was having a private conference with Disney executives just before dashing off to the Newsom-hosted fund-raiser! (See last paragraph of article Click.) This is an amazing pack of elitists in the shoes of Democrats, that's for sure. They are worse than the Roman Senate during the reign of Nero.
Napans have had to chase off another of Mayor Willie's cronies -- in his first bid for mayor he receives more contributions from a Texan than locals -- Gerald D. Hines, Mr. Sugarland and Mr. Houston, with designs on several interesting projects -- developing Treasure Island into casinos, and developing Suscol ridge in Napa county into homes surrounding a resort through Richland interests. Neither project flew, and it cost local residents thousands of dollars to throttle Suscol ridge -- and throttle Richland they did, with 85% of the voters giving it the thumbs down.
And where was Napa County's homegrown Congressman Michael Thompson? Busy doing nothing when prior challenges to land use laws were brought when he was a State Senator. After all, these were Willie's cronies. Where is Congressman Michael Thompson today? Why in the middle of the Carneros Partnership, Inc. deal, ever-faithful to Willie Brown and his milieu of patrons, Walt Disney Corp. among them.
NOTES FROM THE WATERFRONT ARCHIVES
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