Sonoma developers lambasted for anti-gay comments

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A pair of newly prominent Sonoma developers who are husband and wife faced mounting backlash in the city last week after a series of anti-gay posts made previously on the wife’s Facebook page were circulated widely this month.

Stacy and Ken Mattson have spent $80 million in the past three years purchasing 26 properties throughout Sonoma Valley, including the Cornerstone Sonoma marketplace and gardens, Ramekins culinary school and the General’s Daughter event center.

The controversial comments were posted on Stacy Mattson’s Faecbook page stretching back at least six years. In one post, she described herself as “disgusted” by the 2013 Rose Bowl Parade being “high-jacked by the gay agenda,” adding that “the last thing I want to see in the parade is promotion of sin by being forced to watch a gay marriage ceremony.”

In a 2015 post, she wrote that upon returning from a trip to China, she “found our country in an even bigger mess than when (I) left thanks to some truly horrible Supreme Court filings… Obamacare, gay marriage.”

Her most recent public political post was a photo of the couple in early 2017 as they prepared to attend President Trump’s inauguration. The posts are no longer viewable as her Facebook settings were changed to private last week.

The Facebook posts began making waves several weeks ago when screen shots of the anti-gay remarks first started to spread through the community.

The posts came under wider scrutiny after the Sonoma Index-Tribune published an April 8 story about the couple’s real estate buying spree in town. Since 2015, the Piedmont couple have assembled a giant portfolio of Sonoma Valley properties, with the latest wave of purchases in January.

They also own Cottage Inn & Spa in downtown, Sonoma’s Best deli and cottages and the Sojourn tasting room building on East Napa Street, Boyes Food Market on Highway 12, a portion of the Mercado property on the Plaza and the Leland Fishing Ranch on Arnold Drive.

As the extent of their holdings became known this month, the couple and their online profiles attracted even closer attention from local residents. A week after the Index-Tribune story ran, Sonoma food writer Sarah Stierch posted screen shots of Stacy Mattson’s Facebook posts, which have since been shared almost 100 times.

The resulting backlash has been vocal and increasingly public, even coming from within some of the Mattsons’ new properties.

Kyle Kuklewski, executive chef of Ramekins and General’s Daughter, raised rainbow flags on Tuesday to show solidarity with the community.

“We 100 percent disagree with their personal beliefs and we told them that,” said Ramekins general manager David Daniel, referring to an email he said he sent to the couple on Tuesday.

Ken and Stacy Mattson declined to be interviewed but provided a statement on Thursday that sidestepped the content of the posts. Originally from Rancho Cordova, Ken Mattson has worked in the financial services industry for 35 years, most recently as a financial planner. Stacy Mattson is originally from Fairfield. They have been married for almost 30 years and have four children, all of whom are in their 20s.

“The businesses we have purchased in Sonoma have a proud history of being inclusive in terms of employees and clientele,” he wrote. “As new owners, we have insisted that this history of inclusion continue. We also know that a truly diverse community benefits from the discussion of a broad range of ideas. We hope that all our guests, clients and employees will join in on this discussion.”

The controversy has erupted in a city that has sought to make overt shows of support for LGBTQ residents and visitors. It has hoisted the rainbow-colored flag over City Hall, serves as host for the popular summertime Gay Wine Weekend and is home to a growing array of businesses that cater to the gay community.

Gary Saperstein, who runs Out in the Vineyards, promoter of the Gay Wine Weekend and other gay-centered wine country events, said that Stacy Mattson’s posts were “disturbing to say the least.”

“To have this going on in our very own backyard is a reminder that hate exists in all corners of the world… even here in Sonoma,” Saperstein said. “I’m concerned for the employees who work in these businesses as I know that they do not stand with the owners.”

Daniel said that the Mattsons have treated the staff “with respect and kindness since day one,” and are hands off — trusting him to make the right decisions for their business. “We have a total inclusive and supportive culture here which will continue,” he said. “Kyle and I are both huge advocates for that.”

Adding to the furor over Stacy Mattson’s expressed views on gays and gay marriage was news that the couple’s business partner, Tim LeFever, has served as chairman of the board of the Capitol Resource Institute, which has lobbied to repeal state legislation that ensures gay people and gay rights are included in school textbooks and that sexual orientation is protected against discrimination in the schools.

LeFever was also part of a group, Privacy for All, that in 2015 proposed a state initiative which would have banned transgender people from using bathrooms in government buildings that matched their gender identity.

LeFever’s current ties with the groups could not be independently confirmed last week.

Marcelo Defreitas, a local philanthropist and the city of Sonoma’s 2018 alcalde, or honorary mayor, conveyed his distress over the posts.

“We don’t need this kind of divisiveness here,” Defrietas said. “We are one in this community. We work together. Those posts are not what our values are.”

Defreitas, who is gay, said that he has been accepted in Sonoma since he moved to town 20 years ago. “From day one,” he said. “It wasn’t even a question.”

Out in the Vineyards’ May 4 spring soiree, Pink Sonoma Saturday, was booked to take place at the General’s Daughter prior to its sale to LeFever-Mattson. The space was donated to Saperstein.

“I am glad that the owners are not making money from my event,” he said, adding that the event is also a fundraiser for support and advocacy for local LGBTQ youth. “As one friend said to me, ‘All the more reason to gay it up at Pink Saturday and show ’em just how gay friendly Sonoma is!’”

According to Daniel, several same-sex weddings are on the books at Ramekins and General’s Daughter and they will take place as scheduled, and new bookings continue to be accepted.

Sonoma-based developer and lobbyist Darius Anderson oversaw the January sale of Cornerstone, Ramekins and General’s Daughter to the Mattsons and LeFever. He said his team does background research on prospective buyers, but they don’t look into or take into consideration religious beliefs or political background when evaluating a transaction.

“But over the past 20 years, Kenwood Investments has been a leader in supporting diversity and equality, and in our own company policy we provide benefits for domestic partners,” Anderson said of his development firm. Anderson is managing member of Sonoma Media Investments, which owns The Press Democrat and Index-Tribune.

Several city and civic leaders said they intend to take action in the wake of Stacy Mattson’s comments coming to light.

Mayor Amy Harrington said that she and fellow council member Logan Harvey have asked City Manager Cathy Capriola to put a request on the agenda to discuss the city’s current policies with regard to discriminatory practices at a future City Council meeting. The request will be discussed at the May 6 council meeting.

Meanwhile, Springs resident Dmitra Smith, vice chairwoman of the Sonoma County Commission on Human Rights, designed a poster to offer Sonoma Valley businesses with a “We Welcome All” message, in both English and Spanish.

“When they go low, we go high,” Smith said.

She said that two dozen local businesses have already ordered the posters, slated for distribution next Thursday.

“Portland originally made these and they are long overdue in Sonoma Valley,” Smith said.

Community activist Jennifer Gray Thompson said she has met numerous times with Ken Mattson to discuss his development projects in the Springs. While she said she disagrees wholeheartedly with Stacy Mattson’s posts, she does not support boycotting the businesses who rent from the Mattsons — a measure some critics of the posts had initially proposed.

In a lengthy Facebook comment last week, Gray Thompson described herself as having “outrage fatigue.”

“And have come to the conclusion that, for me, the best road is the toughest one: I choose humanity, listening and compassion,” she wrote before speaking with the Index-Tribune on Tuesday. She said she will continue to meet with Ken Mattson and have “tough conversations,” but, she continued, “I will not dehumanize them in an effort to get them to see the humanity in others. The more fundamental the disagreement, the more talking we need to do.”

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