Supervisors set Sept. 14 for recall election on Sonoma County District Attorney Jill Ravitch
Sonoma County voters will decide whether to recall District Attorney Jill Ravitch four months from now in a single-issue special election that will cost $600,000 to $900,000 and come just nine months before the next regular vote to decide who serves as the county’s chief prosecutor.
The recall election — scheduled for Sept. 14 by the Board of Supervisors — is driven by Sonoma County developer Bill Gallaher, who by late April had poured nearly $800,000 into an effort to gather more than 32,000 signatures from registered voters to prompt the vote.
Campaign finance records show Gallaher as the lone donor to the pro-recall campaign in the past two years, while Ravitch supporters have contributed just over $18,000, mostly in amounts of $100, to her defense.
Gallaher, the CEO of Gallaher Homes and founder of Oakmont Senior Living and Poppy Bank, is expected to mount a vigorous and expensive campaign to remove Ravitch, who has announced she will not seek a fourth term in the regular election in June 2022.
“This is one man’s vendetta against me for doing the job I was supposed to do,” Ravitch said Tuesday. She was referring to her office’s prosecution of Gallaher’s companies for failures in the 2017 Tubbs fire, when 100 elderly and infirm residents were abandoned in two Fountaingrove care homes and had to be rescued by loved ones and first responders. “It’s a revenge campaign. Mr. Gallaher seems hellbent on getting me out of office.”
Multiple efforts to reach Gallaher or a representative of the recall campaign for comment Tuesday were unsuccessful, including a call to the office of Gallaher Homes, messages to several Oakmont Senior Living officials and Matt Rexroad, a Recall Ravitch campaign consultant.
“We launched the recall campaign against Jill Ravitch because it is critical that we have steady, competent leadership overseeing public safety in our county,” Gallaher said in a statement two weeks ago.
“Pressing issues of inequality, injustice and fire safety failures have been ignored or inflamed by Ravitch,” the campaign said on its signature gathering petition.
In late September, Ravitch announced publicly she would retire at the end of 2022 when her third term expires. Less than one week later, Gallaher initiated the recall campaign.
Ravitch’s office investigated and prosecuted Oakmont Senior Living, Gallaher’s Windsor-based development company, and two affiliates over abandoning seniors who had no means of evacuating themselves from two Santa Rosa care homes during the Tubbs fire.
The recall campaign began less than two months after one of the Oakmont Senior Living affiliates paid $500,000 to settle the county’s civil complaint.
Gallaher contributed $295,000 to the recall campaign in 2020 and has donated $496,000 so far this year, the latest campaign finance records show.
The contributions represent the latest high-profile case of political spending by Gallaher or one of his family members.
In a March 2020 election, Gallaher’s daughter, Molly Gallaher Flater, chief operating officer of Windsor-based Gallaher Companies, donated $1.8 million to the opposition campaign against an early tax extension for SMART, the North Bay’s passenger rail system. The tax came up short, and combined spending by the two rival campaigns amounted to more than $3 million, making for the most expensive Sonoma County ballot measure on record.
Ravitch took office in 2011 and has been reelected twice. She oversees a $17 million department that reviews roughly 17,000 cases each year.
“I am proud of the work that we do here,” she said Tuesday, acknowledging she has created detractors. “Every decision I make somebody’s going to be upset — victim or defendant.”
Asked if she intends to campaign against the recall, Ravitch said she would “just do her job every day.”
“I’m going to count on the wisdom of the voters to see through this charade,” she said.
“What really gets me is Mr. Gallaher has spent over $750,00 to get me,” Ravitch said. “Can you imagine what that could have done for this community?”
There are two portions on a recall ballot, the question of whether to remove the officeholder, then the rundown of candidates running to replace the official, said Deva Proto, the county registrar of voters.
Candidates interested in replacing Ravitch may obtain and file the necessary forms beginning at 8 a.m. Wednesday and no later than 5 p.m. July 1 at the Registrar of Voters Office, 435 Fiscal Drive, Santa Rosa.
Those who wish to gather signatures rather than pay a filing fee have until 5 p.m. June 22 to submit them.
If there are no replacement candidates, Ravitch said the supervisors would appoint a replacement, with that person’s term expiring in June 2022.
Proto said she calculated the cost of the recall election at $606,000 to $909,000, depending on several factors including the number of registered voters.
The registrar recommended the Sept. 14 date based on the anticipated workload of elections staff, costs on different dates and the legal requirement that the election could not be consolidated with the Nov. 2 district election or a gubernatorial recall election expected in the fall.
You can reach Staff Writer Guy Kovner at 707-521-5457 or email@example.com. On Twitter @guykovner.