Sonoma County Supervisor Efren Carrillo and former Supervisor Ernie Carpenter traded sharp jabs Wednesday night over a controversial timber-to-vineyard conversion project that is sure to become a key election issue in the race for the 5th District supervisorial seat.
The issue — and the intensity of the exchanges in a bid to win environmental votes in the west county district — took center stage in a candidates' forum in Graton that included former Santa Rosa City Councilwoman Veronica Jacobi.
Carrillo accused Carpenter of being a paid lobbyist for what he characterized as an early incarnation of the Preservation Ranch project, a forest-to-vineyard conversion proposal on 20,000 acres outside of Annapolis.
"Make no question about it. Mr. Carpenter was hired as a lobbyist by a vineyard developer," said Carrillo, adding that he objected to questions about the issue coming from "The father of Preservation Ranch."
Carpenter repeatedly called Carrillo's claim a "prevarication," pointing out that the consulting work he did in the late 1990s was not tied to Preservation Ranch, but rather to 80,000 acres of coastal forestlands.
"I never worked on Preservation Ranch. I worked on the Coastal Forestlands project of 80,000 acres of which now 40, 000 are owned by the Nature Conservancy and the other 20,000 are put into a bank for carbon mitigation," he said.
"If he wants to call me a lobbyist that's fine, I'll call him the father of asphalt plants in biotic areas," Carpenter said, referring to Carrillo's key vote approving the Dutra Materials asphalt plant south of Petaluma.
Carpenter repeatedly said he was opposed to Preservation Ranch and directly asked Carrillo to state his position.
Carrillo, who refused to say how he would vote, insisted that taking a position on Preservation Ranch prior to the completion of the county environmental review process would be "irresponsible" given the "quasi-judicial" role of the Board of Supervisors in the process.
The barrage of attacks between Carpenter and Carrillo dominated the first part of the forum at the Graton Community Building hosted by the Sonoma County League of Women Voters and the American Association of University Women.