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After decades as a fixture at county meetings, Bennett Valley rancher stays closer to home these days ? but he still has his opinions

It looked like Bill Pisenti had stones in his shoes, the way he softened each footfall on the walkway up to his Bennett Valley ranch house.

?I?m having trouble with my legs and feet,? he said in the gritty, baritone voice familiar to nearly anyone who?s made a meeting of the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors over the past four decades. ?My doctors say my knees are going out.?

At 91, it hurts to walk and the DMV took his driver?s license, so he leaves Bennett Valley less and less often.

No need to feel too sorry for him on that count. The verdant hills of Bennett Valley are paradise to Pisenti, who grew up in Santa Rosa as the ninth of 14 children born to parents who never had much, especially during the Great Depression, but never failed to put food on the table.

?We had no rations, we could eat all we wanted,? he recalled. He credits his resourceful and hard-working parents, James and Rose Pisenti, with teaching their brood ?to live with gusto ? yet to be content with the little things.?

Pisenti quit Santa Rosa High as a senior in the early 1930s and took a live-in job ? for good pay, $30 a month ? at what was then one of the valley?s multiple dairies.

Pisenti went on to buy his own small Bennett Valley Road ranch, one that he and his late wife, Perina Mazzetta Pisenti, were content never to leave. But when property taxes on the 16 acres began rising steadily, the frugal old-school rancher started making weekly trips to north Santa Rosa to harangue the county Board of Supervisors.

Pisenti made an every-Tuesday habit of beseeching the supervisors to hold the line on government spending and taxation in order to prevent working people from losing their homes to taxes he feared they simply wouldn?t be able to afford someday.

His finest hour came with Californians? passage in 1978 of Proposition 13, which rolled back property taxes and greatly limited how much they can rise year to year.

After Prop. 13 became law, Pisenti continued to drive into town to see the supervisors each Tuesday. He came to wear the mantle of one of liberal Sonoma County?s most visible conservatives and its most tenacious proponent of limited government that leaves the people and their money alone.


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