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PD Editorial: Ravitch recall clouded in smoke

Editorials represent the views of The Press Democrat editorial board and The Press Democrat as an institution. The editorial board and the newsroom operate separately and independently of one another.

In the early morning hours of Oct. 9, 2017, as the Tubbs fire roared into Santa Rosa, dozens of elderly residents were abandoned at two senior care homes owned by Oakmont Senior Living.

If not for a rescue organized by relatives and first responders, the state Department of Social Services concluded, about 20 residents at Villa Capri “would have perished when the facility burned to the ground.” The second facility, Varenna, survived the fire, but residents were left behind when staff members fled.

Oakmont Senior Living admitted state allegations in a 2018 settlement that avoided a public hearing and allowed the company to retain its license.

In September, the company concluded a civil lawsuit filed by state and local prosecutors with a $500,000 settlement.

All of this information has been published before. We offer it up now as a reminder for anyone who is approached to sign a petition for “social justice.”

Well, that’s how the petition was described to a Press Democrat editorial board member outside the Target store at the Coddingtown shopping center.

Unmentioned was the official purpose of the petition: recalling Sonoma County District Attorney Jill Ravitch.

The people seeking to oust Ravitch weren’t mentioned either. The first signature on the petition is Bill Gallaher, the founder of Oakmont Senior Living. Next is his daughter, Molly Gallaher Flater, a top executive in Gallaher family business ventures.

Several current and former business associates and employees of Gallaher-affiliated companies also signed the recall petition. One of them, Komron Shahhosseini, is a county planning commissioner.

The petition doesn’t mention the Tubbs fire, the abandoned seniors or the civil lawsuit filed by Ravitch’s office. Instead, it accuses the district attorney of ignoring “pressing issues of … fire safety failure,” “failing to pursue charges against large corporations that harm and pollute our community” and “abus(ing) her powers to pursue personal vendettas.”

Clearly, she didn’t ignore fire safety failures at Villa Capri and Varenna. She also released a list of 129 companies prosecuted by her office for offenses such as price fixing, mishandling hazardous waste and unlawful streambed diversion.

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

This isn’t the Gallahers’ first political brawl. They’re presently suing Santa Rosa and Windsor over ordinances prohibiting natural gas appliances in new homes. The Gallahers are homebuilders in addition to their senior living business.

Earlier this year, Molly Gallaher Flater bankrolled a $1.8 million campaign against SMART’s sales tax extension measure, which had widespread support among elected officials in Sonoma County.

Full disclosure: Bill Gallaher and his son-in-law, Scott Flater, sued this newspaper over its reporting of Flater’s unprecedented expenditures in support of three Santa Rosa City Council candidates in the 2016 election. A state appellate court dismissed the defamation suit.

Ravitch, who is halfway through her third term as district attorney, has made some unpopular decisions, most notably declining to file charges against a sheriff’s deputy who shot and killed a 13-year-old boy in 2013. But she has been reelected since that decision.

Before the recall surfaced, Ravitch announced that she won’t run for reelection in 2022. If recall proponents can gather the necessary 30,000 signatures to force an early election — at a cost to taxpayers of at least $525,000 — they might shorten her term by about a year.

That may satisfy the Gallahers if their goal is retribution. But if that’s the case, taxpayers would be stuck paying a hefty bill for a recall that could be seen as vindictive.

You can send letters to the editor to letters@pressdemocrat.com.

Editorials represent the views of The Press Democrat editorial board and The Press Democrat as an institution. The editorial board and the newsroom operate separately and independently of one another.

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