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[whitespace] Recall Blues

Cotati council fracas inspires satire

By Janet Wells

THINK THE LATEST fracas in Cotati is just about Vice Mayor Pia Jensen getting stiffed on her turn at mayor? The recent cries for a recall election are just the latest chapter in the pernicious politics of Sonoma County's smallest city.

For a peek into Pandora's box, go back several years to the hiring--and mysterious firing less than two years later--of Paul Marangella as city manager. Get ahold of a copy of "The Sellout of Cotati," a razor-sharp satirical slam of city officials written by longtime Cotati resident and private investigator Tony Adler.

Adler's undisguised ire toward city officials came to a head in 1998 after returning to Cotati from his usual three-month stint in France and finding Marangella "running roughshod over everyone," Adler says. Rankled by Marangella's ideas for developing the sleepy town, Adler says he sleuthed out that Marangella may have been removed from his city manager job in Mammoth Lakes, and that later the Carpinteria City Council voted against renewing his contract. Furthermore, he alleges, the Cotati City Council voted to hire Marangella without doing an adequate background check. Furious, Adler started talking recall.

Then suddenly, last August, Marangella was out of a job again. The council gave him $26,500 to go away and refused to disclose the reasons for his axing. Steam for a recall petered out until a Jan. 12 council meeting, when, during an almost farcical six rounds of straw votes, council members Richard Cullinen and Harold Berkemeier worked to deny Jensen her rotation as mayor. Eventually, a reluctant Geoffrey Fox accepted the honorary post.

"My experience with Richard Cullinen and Harold Berkemeier is that . . . neither one has interest in what the people they are representing want. They want to satisfy everybody and anybody who is going to bring money into Cotati," says Cotati carpenter Mark Firestone, who, along with Adler, is part of the latest recall effort aimed at getting Berkemeier and Cullinen out of office.

Cullinen says he didn't support Jensen's nomination for mayor because of the number of times she has been the lone holdout vote. "It takes on the notion of grandstanding, and the inability to see the big picture in the community," he says. "Most of it comes down to teamwork and the ability to work with other council members."

A recall election would be a waste of $10,000 of Cotati's money, says Cullinen, since his and Berkemeier's terms are up in November, and he does not intend to run for office again. "This really comes down to disagreeing with me. It's a handful of disgruntled individuals who have a vendetta against me and Harold Berkemeier," Cullinen says. "If you're going to take the energy to recall somebody, there should be some sort of charges, some sort of problem outside of disagreement."

Recall proponents have yet to submit a petition to the city clerk and start the process of gathering signatures for a recall ballot initiative. They are, however, holding an informational meeting, Thursday, March 2, at 6:30 p.m., at 8483 Loretto Ave., Cotati.

Bohemia Ranch Sold Out?

WEST COUNTY environmentalists are up in arms over a vineyard development plan filed by the new--and still mysterious--owner of Occidental's scenic Bohemia Ranch. Filed in December, just one day before the county's new vineyard ordinance took effect, the plan requests permission to convert up to 100 acres of the 960-acre ranch to grapevines.

Long coveted as a Sonoma County park, Bohemia Ranch boasts a spectacular 30-foot waterfall, pristine redwood groves, and endangered plants and animals. Efforts to buy the land for a public park were thwarted last year. Representatives of the new owner vowed to preserve the property.

The owner's attorney, Philip Feldman, says in published reports that the vineyard conversion plan was submitted as a method for preserving rights, and that no decision has been made about moving ahead. The county's vineyard conservation coordinator, Gail Davis, says she was going to survey the property this week to determine if the conversion application qualifies for exemption from the county's new ordinance.

Bohemia Ranch's owner, a 40-ish telecommunications businessman who shielded his identity by buying the property through a limited-liability corporation, came under fire last fall when reports surfaced that he was moving ahead with a 1997 timber harvest plan that allows aggressive logging on the property.

The owner's representatives rebutted those reports, preferring to focus instead on work with the Pacific Forest Trust to establish a conservation easement on the property and restore Bohemia Ranch's old-growth forest. "I know this guy is a big-time environmental supporter," says Caryl Hart, who, along with her husband, Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart, organized a benefit concert last year that raised about $75,000 to purchase the property for a public park.

"It's hard to continue to have faith in what he said, when what he does is inconsistent. It doesn't make sense. I have to think that he's not really on top of these things."

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From the March 2-8, 2000 issue of the Sonoma County Independent.

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