Napa County has to contend with yet another fishy deal -- and the whole problem arose because the Napa Sanitation District thought it in this county's best interests to lease land to HVC - Montalcino -- for a resort development project. Now its down to a first phase 379-unit resort project -- but who in the world would want to stay next to a poop plant? Or under the airport's arriving and departing flights?
The Sanitation District has fetid problems of its own -- it can never seem to meet the State's standards for control of its effluvium and waste water into Napa River. Even with a new system, it flows volumes of discharge that have regulators concerned. In order to raise money and appear to be thrifty, a bright idea was hatched to lease part of the site's excess land.
The land in question adjoins Agricultural Preserve and Watershed designated acreage -- all open countryside at this time. In fact, several years ago voters resoundingly defeated a similar resort and golf course development project slated for 1,200 acres of Napa's southern portal of rolling hills. And the vote was a landslide -- 84% said no to the Texas developer.
Now, Napa County Farm Bureau, the Sierra Club, and others find themselves struggling with a planning apparatus that can't seem to understand either the will of the people or the County's laws, an apparatus that has vaguely given "partial approval" for Phase I of HVC - Montalcino, and entity that doesn't even legally exist. That's a green light for the first phase of the project that is currently being appealed by Farm Bureau and the Sierra Club.
We decided to check into who's schmoozing. Who are the players behind HVC? At this time research points to a joint venture of Hyatt's venture capital (HVC) and Montalcino Resort Investment, Inc. Both have filings in the State of California readily available from the Secretary of State. And how shocking and revealing the information.
1. HVC has two filings in California, one made in 1995 was HVC - Indian Wells. This company was recently "surrendered" and barred from doing whatever the intended business was in California -- on an involuntary basis. The other venture, HVC - Highlands was created in 1999 and remains active and is a likely venture partner with Montalcino.
The address for both of the above: 200 West Madison St., Chicago, Ill. Click. HVC-HIGHLANDS, INC. and Click. HVC-INDIAN WELLS, INC.
2. 200 West Madison Street, Chicago, is the Hyatt Corporation headquarters. A call to the company confirmed HVC is related to Hyatt Corporation and there are trails on the internet.
3. Read more about Hyatt Corporation which indeed has many diversified businesses and ventures. In addition to hotels, it controls casinos and luxury community developments Click. This is the Pritzker family of one of Chicago's largest private combines.
Proud of its secrecy, Pritzkers through the years has ventured off to control businesses as diverse as Braniff Airlines and Ticketmaster, to software and biotech. But there's a shady history, some of it revealed by business writers and authors. They get top billing in Bryan Burrough's "Barbarians at the Gate" and Connie Bruck's "Predator's Ball." But the Pritzker family's origin of wealth run back to Chicago's wild years of 1920s - 30s questionable pharmacies, flop houses and speak-easies. A big "to-do" was made about Jay Pritzker's offer to pay millions for his first hotel (purchased from Hyatt) in 1957, with little attention paid to his source of wealth. He had millions at the tender age of 32 and no one asked questions?
The press had provided a morsel or two, such as Forbes Magazine in February 1995 -- about Jay Pritzker's brush with the IRS that resulted in his payment of $54 million in back taxes and penalties. And Hyatt's casinos received "greetings" from the Department of Justice in 1996 (otherwise known as a subpoena for records).
So what about Montalcino? Is it as private, shady and mysterious as Hyatt? Montalcino's filings with the Secretary of State reveal two interesting facts: Its agent for service of process is Chicago-related (through partners and employees) Steefle, Levitt & Weiss -- a San Francisco firm to call "forthwith" if you're having a problem with the IRS.
The Steefle firm is also touted by The Wine Institute (http://www.wineinstitute.com) as a premier wine industry law firm. In turn, the Wine Institute's capo is John DeLuca who served as Joseph L. Alioto's Vice Mayor (1968-75) which was John's springboard to the Wine Institute. Steefle counts among its biggest and most important clients Sutter Home Winery. In turn, Bob Trinchero of Sutter Home Winery is President of the Wine Institute, which also employs as a senior executive Robert "Bobby" Petri Koch. And Bobby is married to Doro Bush LeBlonde -- that's right, the daughter of former President George H. W. Bush, and sister of President George W. Bush.
Would the concerned citizens of Napa get a fair shake from the State's top law enforcer, Attorney General Bill Lockyer, if push came to shove in the development deal? Possibly not, as some of his closest friends include John DeLuca and Ron Larson formerly of the Steefle firm, now in-house counsel for Sutter Home Winery. On December 8, 2000 at a Wine Industry Summit John DeLuca expressed an interest in moving grape-growing up to Washington State for a couple of reasons (1) "we need room for houses down here" and (2) "the bottom fell outta the apple industry and we have 1/2 million acres of orchards to convert up there." Bill Lockyer took to the dais and added "we're goin' to launch a city the size of Chicago - my favorite city - right here in California." Both paid homage to Joseph L. Alioto to whom they attribute their successful political careers, with Steefle's Ron Larson (another Chicago refugee) running around engaging in hugs with the speakers. DeLuca made it rather clear "we're moving more people out from New York and Chicago all the time." Neither professed the slightest concern about maintaining vineyards and open space in the Bay Area, and both were in fact zealous about future development.
Aside from the Steefle affiliation, Montalcino displays an address in Vancouver, British Columbia. It is listed as 1030 West Georgia Street, #1700. There's a string of business listings, the most prominent of which is PCI Corporation that operates in the same suite as Montalcino. Is Montalcino a part of PCI Corporation? It seems plausible, as PCI was involved in several large developments in Vancouver. But it has its problems. It isn't listed as a corporation authorized to do business in Canada.
What pops out of all of this?
1. Money and manpower from Chicago;
2. Money from Vancouver, British Columbia;
3. Questionable reputations and status;
4. Politics as usual, regardless of the will of the people.
A little sunshine on the schmooze system should hopefully be enough to send these folks scurrying back to Las Vegas, Chicago, or Vancouver from whence they came. The public's continued support of Napa County's Agricultural Preserve and Watershed is appreciated. Keep letters to the editor of "The Napa Valley Register" and "The Napa Sentinel" pouring in -- and be sure to copy the Planning Department, Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors at 1195 Third Street, Napa, CA 94559.