Huge forest-to-vine project near Annapolis threatened

The California Public Employees' Retirement System, the giant state workers pension fund, is severing its investment ties with a Napa-based vineyard management firm pushing one of Sonoma County's largest and most controversial land-use projects.

The move threatens Preservation Ranch, the proposed 1,769-acre forest-to-vineyard conversion in northwestern Sonoma County, wine industry sources said.

Environmentalists have rallied nationwide against the project, saying it would harm water resources and wildlife, including beleaguered salmon and steelhead populations in the Gualala River watershed.

CalPERS confirmed the investment decision Wednesday.

The $225 billion fund, the country's largest government pension system, has a majority stake in Preservation Ranch through an investment portfolio managed by Premier Pacific Vineyards of Napa.

The coming shakeup — CalPERS has yet to name a replacement manager for its vineyard investments — could put Preservation Ranch on hold, industry sources said.

A CalPERS spokesman would not say Wednesday how the fund's decision could affect the proposed vineyard development on nearly 20,000 acres of second-growth redwood and fir forest outside of Annapolis.

An environmental impact report on the project, which government officials say is the largest of its kind in modern state history, is due out at the end of this year. Public comment periods and hearings before county boards, including supervisors, would follow.

Supporters insisted the investment decision would not stall the project, first proposed in 2006.

"The management change should not have any impact on Preservation Ranch," Tom Adams, land-use director for Premier Pacific Vineyards, said in an email.

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