Scandal Time in Napa -- The Fishy Montalcino Deal
Chevron Employee Mark Luce Orchestrates Cover-Up in Napa Land Grab
On June 29 we brought you coverage of the Napa County Board of Supervisors meeting -- where three supervisors appear to be lining up to turn the entire county into a Palm Springs - Indian Wells series of golf courses and resorts, possibly interspersed with Disney theme park attractions for a historyland deal.
We found that HCV Pacific Partners led by Geoffrey Yeh of Hong Kong is paired with HVC, a loose operation of Pacific Union Investment Co. (San Francisco Superior Court Fictitious Business Name Statement No. 168775) -- and that both use addresses for some of their ventures that weave back to Hyatt Corporation -- 200 West Madison Street, Chicago. 
You can again confirm the Hong-Kong - Yeh family connection at through Hsin Chong International Ltd. (a Bermuda corporation) and select also "about us" to confirm that Geoffrey Yeh's Hong Kong money calls the shots ... Hong Kong money that is associated with Eisner's vision of a Disneyland in Hong Kong at Lantau, where Yeh's construction company just completed an international airport terminal that is essential to Disney's dream come true in 2005 -- their project Hong Kong featured in their annual report.
We also provided information that Montalcino Resort Investment, Inc. was formed just two days before the Planning Commission held its first of two meetings to decide whether or not to approve the project -- Montalcino Resort Investment, Inc. was formed March 19, 2001.  The first of two Planning hearings was March 21, and the green light was given to the project April 18, 2001. Montalcino Resort Investment, Inc. was created by attorneys Steefel, Levitt & Weiss, and the company uses a Vancouver, British Columbia mailing address.
Corp Number Date Filed Status Corporation Name Agent for Service of Process
Number: C2336664 Date Filed: 3/19/2001 Status: active
Jurisdiction: California
Mailing Address
1030 W GEORGIA ST STE 1700
Agent for Service of Process
Farm Bureau appealed the Planning Commission decision on the basis of land use laws, and uses permissible for ag-watershed-open space land. And they wondered, why would the Planning Commission approve a project to allow fee-paying golfers to operate on land designated ag-watershed-open space when they are enforcing against a farmer who has both vineyards and horses and was nabbed for conducting a fee-paying recreational business (horseback riding).  The charge:  This isn't permitted, any type of fee-paid recreation use, on land designated for agriculture-watershed-open space.  Clearly something is fishy about this Napa Sanitation District - HCV deal which is a "fee-paid recreation use" (a golf course) on land proposed to be designated agriculture-watershed-open space.
The two most vocal of three favoring the project were Bill Dodd and Mark Luce.  So, we did a bit of checking into Luce and Dodd contributors ... and are there doozies among them. 
Donations flow from Ron Larson, who was "of counsel" for Steefel, Levitt & Weiss and was involved in a scandalous Napa land raid.  He now works for Sutter Home Winery, another big contributor to Dodd (and Supervisors Luce and Varrelman).  Of course Steefel, Levitt & Weiss is a Montalcino Resort facilitator (above).
Meanwhile, Sutter Home Winery doesn't own Napa County vineyards -- on December 8, 2000 at a meeting sponsored by The Wine Institute, John DeLuca, who confessed to ownership in a Napa winery, supported the Institute's position  "We're going to move all the grape-growing up to Washington State -- we need the area here for development and housing" as California Attorney General Bill Lockyer went on to recount "we're going to launch a city the size of Chicago, my favorite city, right here in Ca. over the next 15 years."  Ron Larson waltzed between the two, exchanging hugs.  The Steefel law firm was well-represented at the event. The idea is that bulk tankers continue to bring wine to Sutter Home -- doesn't matter if those tankers come from the Central Valley or Washington State -- their source of supply isn't Napa anyway, so what does shareholder DeLuca care? Sutter Home then becomes the hub for distribution of barrels with taps and cases of wine  ... as DeLuca articulated "we are going to push for franchising so we can sell wine in all 50 states."  So, Sutter's only interest is in pumping wines out to storefronts at malls where retail shoppers abound ... the Pizza Hut and KFC type of distribution solution to direct retail sales of wines. Greed, pure and simple.  No more of this having to give a slice to wholesalers.
DeLuca also said he's going to see that fingerprints are NOT required of ATF bondholders.  "We don't like it -- it sort of makes us look like criminals."  Where's the logic here, we all give our fingerprints in order to get drivers licenses. What's his problem with this timeless practice, designed to keep organized crime from control of firearms manufacturing and sales, and the production and distribution of alcoholic beverages, including wine.
Dodd also received a modest donation from Pacific Union.  In this case it was Pacific Union Harlan Estate Winery. So here is a part of the HVC network that links to Hyatt sponsoring their "yes man."  Pacific Union Investment Co. was one of the partners that formed HVC Associates which formed HVC - Indian Wells (shut down) and HVC - Highlands.
At the December 8 meeting both Bill Lockyer and John DeLuca acknowledged and praised Joseph Alioto, and bowed their heads in solemn homage.  After a few moments both said that neither of them would have had successful political careers without his help.  A list of the donors to Bill Dodd's campaign for the Board of Supervisors is replete with Alioto relations and family who have taken up homes and second homes at Silverado Resort and throughout his district. And don't overlook board members and shareholders of Napa Valley Bank, which raided the Hanns Kornell Champagne Cellars, among the contributors.
Other donations flew in from pro-development Napa National Bank.  This bank was subsequently merged out. Its board and shareholders consisted of members of the Dickinson, Peatman & Fogarty law firm.
Yet other donations flowed from attorneys associated with Napa's Dickinson, Peatman & Fogarty whose footprints are all over land conversion from the Kornell family into the arms of a Walt Disney Corporation executive, Rich Frank and his side-kick Koerner Rombauer and other questionable land deals.  Rombauer Vineyards was also a donor to the pro-development Dodd-Luce and now apparently Varrelman team.  Their associations with Anaheim are so strong, they facilitate recommendations for faculty and school administrators from Anaheim to fill vacancies in Napa and bring Orange County attorneys aboard.
A hint of where Hyatt and Disney come together, aside from Napa attorneys -- the law offices of O'Brien, Watters, et. al. in Sonoma County where now-judge Elaine Watters extols her representation of Marmon Group (Pritzker -- Hyatt Hotels family's private investment arm at the time) and the records In re Hanns Kornell Champagne Cellars show her firm representing Rombauer (Frank) interests in U.S. bankruptcy court before she was appointed a superior court judge.  Elaine Watters also had equity investments in a real estate venture that she converted to loans within weeks of the time that entity filed for bankruptcy.  In fact, in July 1992 "The San Francisco Record" did a full-page spread on her as Superior Court Judge in Sonoma County.  She talked about how she handles the courtroom, her vast experience.  Problem was, she wasn't even sworn in as a judge until December, 1992! The Federal docket shows that U.S. Trustee Sousa vehemently objected to O'Brien, Watters conflicted position in the Kornell case, but Judge Alan Jaroslavsky overruled the objection and obtained financing from the Navy Federal Credit Union against his house that indicates he can likely keep his property if he defaults.  The Kornell white knight investor was then murdered in early July 1992, and while the cellars were in re-organization, Napa Valley Bank foreclosed not one month later. That same date, they formed Napa Valley Champagne Cellars, despite the fact that a bank cannot hold a bond let alone manufacture alcoholic beverages. After a respectable time, the bank transferred the facility to Disney exec Frank and Rombauer, though Rombauer had been operating there since shortly after the foreclosure, spinning out some champagne without first disgorging it ....
Now back to Dodd -- many contributing wineries are clients either of the Dickinson law firm in Napa or the Steefel, Levitt & Weiss firm (literally hailing from Chicago) located in San Francisco. Dodd even culled in $1,000 from a Reno, Nevada developer of homes on golf courses. Many of the donor wineries were financed by Napa Valley Bank, which made Sutter Home Winery among others.
To make matters more interesting, Jim King, a school teacher, was a member of the Planning Commission in 1996 when Napa Sanitation District advanced its request to re-designate land from public institution to ag-watershed-open space.  He gave $675 to Mark Luce, then running for a seat on the Napa County Board of Supervisors.  Luce in turn received $500 from "Bill Dodd for Supervisor" for his 3/7/00 run.  King became Chairman of the Planning Commission, and approved the HCV Napa Associates (Montalcino Resort - Hyatt Montalcino) project April 18, 2001.  Birds of a feather they say ...
While the donations are legal, just who gave them is a scandal.   It doesn't take a rocket scientist to see that Dodd is one wired-in and influence-peddled guy.  I mean, running with a crowd that had their banks taken away from them, one subject to cease and desist orders it ignored?
Luce looks innocuous enough on the donations side except that money came from both King of the Planning Commission and Dodd. Luce was the bigger supporter of HCV at the June 26 meeting, refused to recuse, and set the wheels in motion for what he thinks is his entitlement to vote on this matter July 31 when the hearing reconvenes. 
However, the record shows that Luce, who also sits on the Board of Napa Sanitation District, voted to approve the long-term lease to HCV Napa Associates in 1999.  And, the record also shows that on June 26 it was Luce who called Mike Alexander, NSD plant manager, to come forward.  Alexander lied and said their was no long term lease -- then Luce basically refused to recuse --  see, no long term lease no conflict here - no pre-existing deals between NSD and private interests to develop a golf course -- no, nothing like that, just lie about the lease!  This is the employer (NSD board) Luce, cuing the employee, NSD manager Alexander, to lie "or else ....."   As to Luce's employer, Chevron, they sure have a loser on their hands, for Mark Luce approved the lease in 1999 and it is of record in a number of places in Napa County and won't go away.
Luce's donations were from out of county sources -- San Ramon, Concord, Santa Rosa, and Kentucky, plus $500 from Chevron and $675 from King. A local donation Luce received in 1996 was from Redwood Bank.  That bank was merged out and was referred to last Fall in "The San Francisco Chronicle" as a troubled bank that laundered money for Ferdinand Marcos among others.
And as to the notion of County Counsel that the Board has to show it is rational in its decision -- Varrelman, who spoke in favor of the project June 26, has urged voting against, or signed arguments opposing, all of the prior ballot measures in this county that would permit resort/golf and other types of non-permitted development in ag-watershed-open space areas.  In fact, he participated on a panel before the vote on the last ballot measure that would have provided hotel taxes to purchase ag-watershed-open space land for recreational purposes --  arguing the measure was contrary to voter mandates and the general plan, leading the cause to defeat the measure.  His long history of opposing development with a sudden reversal of that position would be irrational indeed.
An article appeared June 29 in the "Sacramento Bee" titled "A vintage battle: St. Helena doesn't want the Wine Train disgorging tourists there."  Who was interviewed?  Why, Supervisor Mel Varrelman.  The article's author, Herbert A. Sample, writes:
"Yet the dispute (Wine Train) in which St. Helena recently gained the upper hand is illustrative of a growing sense in much of Napa County that grid locked traffic, herds of window-shoppers and other downsides of rampant tourism have taken too large a toll on a once-bucolic lifestyle.
'The thing I can tell you about Carmel is it's overwhelmed by tourists,' said Napa County Supervisor Mel Varrelman, referring to a favorite destination of his on the Central Coast.  'That's the way it is here ... It's going to be part of our lives and I don't know how we get around it.'"
Answer:  The last thing you do is approve a proposal for a new destination resort (Montalcino) with a convention/conference center and a world championship golf course -- a resort that markets itself  world-wide, and brings in more throngs of tourists.  The last thing you do is vote for a General Plan Amendment advanced by the NSD, Luce, and poop plant affiliates that permits the construction of  golf courses/resorts on land designated ag-watershed-open space.
Varrelman's favorite Carmel, by the way, is another operating theater of both HCV Pacific Partners and HVC.  It is through their Highlands records in CA that both reveal their ties to Hyatt, using Hyatt's Chicago address as their business address.
The "Sacramento Bee" article goes on to quote others:
"'It's a distraction for our industry,' said Herb Schmidt, spokesman for the Robert Mondavi Winery.  'It ties up traffic, and it doesn't take traffic off the road.'"
"Many of the county's major roads are congested with tourists as well as workers who drive to local jobs or to San Francisco.  Increased housing prices have pushed many lower-wage workers out of the towns in which they work, officials say." 
And why has HCV Napa Associates (Hyatt Montalcino Resort) filed an appeal of the Planning Commission's April 18 approval of its project?  Because it doesn't want to provide funds for 46 units of affordable housing as a mitigation measure!
And what does it add?  More than 500 employees commuting to the site ... and how about at least 1,000 more flushes each day when NSD has been found inadequate to handle the current outflow?  Mix in thousands of showers and it is easy to see the point that the project makes no sense.
The author continues ... "The Napa Valley Conference and Visitors Bureau last year took the unusual step of trying to reduce the number of tourists ... Tourism has declined about 10 percent in the past 12 months ... 'You have to do something about preserving this place for the future, and additional numbers unabated will doom the future,' said Daniel Howard, the bureau's executive director."
One solution is staring the Board of Supervisors right in the face -- don't create another destination resort.  The only rational vote on this project is a "no" vote, a thumbs down to HCV Napa Associates and to the requested amendment of the General Plan changing the designation of much needed public land to ag-watershed-open space to accommodate a golf course.
Will local press pick up the ball and run with the scandal, alerting the public before the July 31 hearing?


News and views about Napa County, California. Click.