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Sonoma County developer Bill Gallaher launches recall campaign against District Attorney Jill Ravitch

Sonoma County developer Bill Gallaher and his family have launched a recall campaign against District Attorney Jill Ravitch nearly two months after the company running their senior care homes paid $500,000 to settle a lawsuit filed by local and state prosecutors over the abandonment of frail elderly residents during the 2017 Tubbs fire.

Gallaher and his daughter, Molly Gallaher Flater, were the first and second of 27 signatures on a petition notifying Ravitch of their intention to oust her from the office she’s held since 2011. The list of signatures includes several current and former business associates and employees of Oakmont Senior Living, a Windsor company founded by Gallaher.

The petition includes a list of complaints about Ravitch’s decade as district attorney, including claims her office has not prosecuted corporations for environmental crimes, failed to publicize conviction-rate data, “prevented the disclosure of police body camera recordings” and used its official powers to pursue personal vendettas.

The petition was filed Friday with the county elections office, less than one week after Ravitch announced publicly she would not run for a fourth term in 2022.

Gallaher Flater, in an email, indicated they will continue with the campaign to unseat her.

“We think District Attorney Ravitch has been horrible, and we feel the voters deserve a chance to decide whether she should complete her term,” Gallaher Flater said.

She did not respond to questions asking for more detail about what specific actions by the district attorney were “horrible.”

Ravitch defended her record, saying the complaints in the petition are either “incorrect or incomprehensible.”

“I’m so proud of the work the District Attorney’s Office does, and it’s such an honor to lead a dedicated group of professionals who work hard every day to ensure justice,” Ravitch said. “These allegations strike not just at me but the work my office does, and that’s unfortunate.”

Read a copy of the petition here:

Jill Ravitch recall petition.pdf

Ravitch and state Attorney General Xavier Becerra launched investigations into two Oakmont Senior Living facilities, Villa Capri and Varenna, after their staff left behind about 100 frail residents as the Tubbs fire encroached on the Fountaingrove senior care homes.

Family members and police rushed to rescue the residents, evacuating them on city buses. Villa Capri, which includes a memory care unit for people with conditions including dementia and Alzheimer’s, burned to the ground and Varenna was damaged during the wildfire disaster.

The incident triggered a state investigation, which led to sanctions requiring the company to revamp its evacuation procedures. Former residents and their families sued the companies, reaching a confidential settlement.

Local prosecutors and the state Attorney General’s Office filed a civil lawsuit charging Oakmont Senior Living and two related companies that own or operate the two care homes with unfair business practices. The complaint alleged the facilities’ owners and operators were responsible for leaving infirm residents “with no means to evacuate themselves,” failing to prepare staff to evacuate residents during emergencies and not telling relatives about the status of their loved ones during the fires.

Oakmont Management Group, which operated the homes under contract with Oakmont Senior Living, settled the lawsuit. The agreement that included an injunction requiring the companies involved in the ownership and management of Villa Capri and Varenna create an enhanced disaster plan and train staff.

Ravitch said she “feels strongly” the outcome was just.

“It’s essential that anyone taking care of a vulnerable population needs to ensure their safety,” she said.

The plight of those Santa Rosa elders during the Tubbs fire also led to a new state law, signed by Gov. Gavin Newsom last year, increasing civil penalties for caregivers who abandon elders during emergencies.

Ravitch questioned whether the Gallahers were motivated to recall her because of the settlement with Oakmont Management Group. The petition ends with a claim Ravitch has “abused her powers to pursue personal vendettas.”

Ravitch said that, on the contrary, she has made unpopular choices based on the facts of cases and the pursuit of justice that have cost her friendships.

“I have to wonder whether or not that’s projecting on their part,” Ravitch said.

But the campaign may resonate with some who are disgruntled with Ravitch’s time in the office.

Former Santa Rosa Police Department Officer Orlando Macias was the fourth to sign the petition. Macias, who retired from the department earlier this year, was among the officers who rescued residents from Villa Capri. Since that time he has become a friend to Gallaher Flater. Macias is board president of Lifeworks for Sonoma County, a mental health services nonprofit that has received financial support from the Gallaher family, he said.

Macias said he believes no individual or company in Sonoma County was fully prepared for the Tubbs fire. His disappointment in Ravitch goes beyond what he felt was unfair treatment of the Gallaher family, Macias said, and was rooted in what he viewed as a lack of leadership by Ravitch after the 2013 shooting of Andy Lopez, a Santa Rosa teen who was shot and killed by a sheriff’s deputy.

Ravitch’s office reviewed the case and found the now-retired deputy, Erick Gelhaus, did not violate any criminal laws when he shot Lopez, 13, who was holding a plastic airsoft BB gun designed to look like an assault rifle.

Macias declined to elaborate on what he thought a better district attorney would have done during that time.

“People who wanted to see more justice brought about with that situation didn’t see it,” Macias said.

Ravitch has said the Lopez decision was one of the toughest of her career and she stands by the result of her office’s investigation.

Ravitch said the petition’s claims about body camera video would be better posed toward law enforcement agencies in charge of the recordings. She also provided The Press Democrat with a list of 129 companies her office has prosecuted for crimes or violations such as price fixing, hazardous waste disposal and streambed diversion.

Ravitch said she is preparing a formal response that will be submitted to the elections office.

It is the second highly public attempt to influence local politics this year by the Gallaher family. In January, Flater almost single-handedly bankrolled a campaign to defeat efforts by Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit to extend a quarter-cent sales tax funding the commuter rail system. Flater donated more than $1.8 million to NotSoSmart.org, the campaign against Measure I, according to campaign finance statements filed in July. Voters overwhelmingly rejected the tax extension in March.

To place a recall measure on the ballot, the Gallahers and others involved in the campaign must gather 30,000 verifiable signatures in support of a recall within 160 days. If they succeed, the Board of Supervisors must call an election between 88 and 125 days from the time the elections office confirms the signatures are valid, according to Deva Marie Proto, Sonoma County's clerk, recorder, assessor and registrar of voters.

You can reach Staff Writer Julie Johnson at 707-521-5220 or julie.johnson@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @jjpressdem.

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