GRATON — Grapevines and asphalt may decide the outcome of the 5th District Supervisor’s race judging from a scrappy candidates’ forum held in Graton last week.
Former 5th District Supervisor Ernie Carpenter targeted the controversial Preservation Ranch timber-to-grapes proposal as a centerpiece of his campaign, saying he’s dead set against it and challenging incumbent Efren Carrillo to take a position.
“I’m opposed to Preservation Ranch and I’ll remain opposed to it,” said Carpenter. “What is your position Supervisor?”
Carrillo has so far stayed neutral on Preservation Ranch but seemed to concede the project on 19,000-acres near Annapolis looms as a political albatross.
“The public needs to know the truth. Mr. Carpenter is the father of Preservation Ranch,” said Carrillo at last week’s forum, the first debate among the three 5th District candidates, Carrillo, Carpenter and Veronica Jacobi.
Carrillo painted Carpenter as a lobbyist for a vineyard developer who was the former owner of the Preservation Ranch site, “and to come out to the public and say that you did not lobby the board of supervisors … to me shows hypocrisy and is truly misleading,” said Carrillo.
“It’s pretty simple. He was hired as a paid lobbyist to lobby the board and to move this project forward,” said Carrillo, whose remarks drew derisive laughter from the predominately senior crowd of about 100 people in the Graton Community Club.
Carrillo’s “father of Preservation Ranch” charge is “an absurd prevarication,” said Carpenter.
“I never worked on Preservation Ranch. I worked on the Coastal Forestland project, 80,000 acres, of which now 40,000 acres are owned by the Nature Conservancy and the other 20,000 is put into a bank for carbon mitigation and 19,000 acres were sold to Preservation Ranch, which is coming to the County of Sonoma,” said Carpenter.
“What I was was an environmental consultant. If he wants to call me a lobbyist that’s fine. I’ll call him the father of asphalt plants in biotic areas,” said Carpenter, a reference to Petaluma’s Dutra asphalt plant that Carrillo supported despite widespread opposition among Sonoma County environmental activists.
Carpenter also faulted Carrillo for his supportive votes on the Best Family Winery project near Sebastopol and a Syar Industries instream gravel mining plan in the Russian River near Healdsburg.
“If you want someone who drops a 45-foot tall winery on septic and well in a neighborhood on six acres and no grapes, then you want the incumbent,” said Carpenter.
“If you want someone who voted for Syar Industrys to continue in the Russian River, not just five years, they amended the ordinance to make it 15 years, then you want the incumbent, you don’t want me, because I want gravel miners out of the Russian River,” said Carpenter.
“If you want someone who’s received most of his money from developers, gravel miners, PG&E, real estate PACs and wine development interests, you want the incumbent, you don’t want me.”
Carrillo at one point said “You’re a candidate, sir.”
“Yes I am,” said Carpenter. “And you’re not going to miss it.”
The neglected state of the county’s roads also played well at last week’s meeting, with Carpenter saying Carrillo will turn the county’s roads to rubble and Carrillo calmly defending his Dutra vote as environmentally sound.
“We need to make sure that these plants are safe, they’re up to date, up to standards, and that we’re implementing the current air and water quality standards,” said Carrillo.
The Dutra site on the Petaluma River met all the relevant criteria, said Carrillo.
“It’s on the corridor of Highway 101, it’s on the corridor of a rail transit, and you’ve got barging that comes in there,” said Carrillo.
“When we looked at the Aggregate Resource Management plan, we said we’ve got to get mining out of the middle reach of the Russian River. We’re not doing that anymore. We’re going to move to quarries. Folks don’t like quarries.We said we were going to barge it in. That’s what Dutra was intended to do. It was intended to reduce the environmental impacts. When you have rock coming out of Forestville, trucked to Santa Rosa and then trucked to Petaluma, that, environmentally, from a big picture perspective, is not the right thing to do,” said Carrillo.
“I find it kind of ironic that someone who wants to pave roads and fill potholes and yet can’t seem to find the common sense that you need aggregate resources and asphalt to actually get the job done,” said Carrillo.
“Well, you’ve got gravel and you’ve got asphalt but you’re not filling the potholes,” said Carpenter. “Put it to work.”
The three candidates fielded questions for more than an hour last week, with Carpenter and Carrillo’s verbal combat in sharp contrast to Veronica Jacobi’s quieter demeanor as she spoke about her priority issues such as climate change and global warming.
“I want to be your low impact, small footprint supervisor,” said Jacobi.
Jacobi said if she’s elected she will donate 50 percent of her salary to local non-profit projects.
The three candidates meet again this Thursday evening (May 3) at Guerneville Elementary School on Armstrong Woods Road. Doors open at 6 p.m. and the forum starts at 6:30.