Mattson/LeFever watchdog Wake Up Sonoma presents findings, concerns and goals
The first floor of the Sonoma Community Center Feb. 23 was packed with people who wanted to learn more about a grassroots community group that has been investigating a prolific real estate buyer and controversial developer who has been slow to develop his dozens of local properties.
Tickets, limited to 75, were quickly claimed, with Mayor Sandra Lowe seated up front. The event marked the first time Wake Up Sonoma officially addressed the public. Self-described as "concerned residents of the Sonoma Valley who oppose takeover by LeFever/Mattson of community property,” the group laid out their work so far, as well as their goals for the future.
Ken Mattson and his business partner, Tim LeFever, have raised public scrutiny after buying more than 80 Sonoma Valley properties since 2015, including lots that sit empty for years. Group members have pored over records related to Mattson/LeFever’s businesses, property records and details of new sales.
Wake Up Sonoma formed on Facebook in November, shortly after the county hosted two public meetings to present a potential partnership with Mattson on the Springs plaza, a process that lacked transparency, according to members.
The steering committee includes David Eicher, Josette Brose-Eichar, Chris Wall, Mike Marnell, Hunter Mills, Ann Scarff, Lisa Storment, Mary Samson and Veroncal Napoles. Storment, Samson and Napoles also makeup the executive committee.
Since the group’s founding, its steering committee has met every Tuesday to discuss progress and findings. They organized a protest on the sidewalk in front of Cocoa Planet, a vacant Mattson-owned property, in downtown Sonoma on Feb. 4. The group initially planned to host weekly protests at a Mattson site, but dropped that idea.
Napoles, who founded the group, introduced herself at the meeting as “the accidental activist,” a resident of the Springs, an artist and a concerned citizen.
She spoke of the group’s corporate sponsors, which now includes Out in the Vineyard, Spread Kitchen, Sonoma Market, El Dorado Kitchen and Scandia Bakery. She also highlighted some of their major concerns, including questions around Mattson/LeFever’s rapidly growing real-estate portfolio, transparency in local government when dealing with Mattson, and anti-LGBTQ+ sentiments posted by Ken Mattson’s wife, Stacy Mattson, on social media in 2013.
Wake Up Sonoma said it maintains a list of 100 commercial and residential properties in the Valley owned by LeFever/Mattson companies (a list the Index-Tribune has not independently verified). In his presentation, Wall outlined a few of the most significant properties, including The General’s Daughter, Depot Hotel and Restaurant, which was re-branded as The Depot, Sonoma’s Best, The Sonoma Cheese Factory and Boyes Food Center.
Eicher spoke about his work studying public records on Mattson’s businesses and purchases since 2020. Stroment shared her fears of bigotry as a member of the LGBTQ+ community.
“This feels threatening to me,” she said.
During a question-and-answer session, Mattson’s recent purchase of a Railroad Avenue property where Harvey’s Gourmet Donuts has been a tenant for 14 years surfaced, with a call for continued support of the family-owned business.
“Harvey’s business is important to this community,” Mills said. “Go to Harvey’s. Go get a doughnut, please.”
Applause flew across the room.
The group hopes to raise funds that will help further their volunteer work; cover the cost to request records, marketing material and merchandise to promote the group’s work; and fund future town hall meetings. It accepts donations on its website, wakeupsonoma.com. Mills said they also hope to hire a lawyer to explore legal questions and the developer’s dealings.
Mattson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
“I think people have been asking questions since 2015. No one has gotten answers directly, but I think we’re at least shedding some light into the dark,” Napoles said in an interview with the Sonoma Index-Tribune Friday morning.
Contact the reporter Rebecca Wolff at firstname.lastname@example.org.