There’s more at stake in Sonoma County’s upcoming recall election than the tarnished reputation of senior living mogul Bill Gallaher.
If voters remove District Attorney Jill Ravitch from office, it will send a dangerous message to other public officials: Holding wealthy people accountable can end your career.
The path to the Sept. 14 recall election begins with the Tubbs fire in 2017, when employees fled Villa Capri and Varenna, assisted-living complexes owned by Gallaher’s Oakmont Senior Living in Santa Rosa’s Fountaingrove neighborhood. About 100 elderly residents got left behind, according to the state Department of Social Services. If not for a rescue effort organized by relatives and first responders, the state’s investigation concluded, about 20 residents at Villa Capri “would have perished when the facility burned to the ground.”
In the aftermath, California enacted new protections for seniors in assisted living, and Oakmont Senior Living negotiated a settlement with state regulators that allowed the company to keep its license and avoid a public hearing. Oakmont also settled with residents and their families.
In September, the company settled a lawsuit filed by the Sonoma County district attorney and the state Justice Department, paying $500,000 and, perhaps more important, agreeing to hire an independent monitor to ensure compliance with court-ordered disaster planning and training requirements crafted to protect residents at Varenna and a rebuilt Villa Capri.
Then, in October, less than a week after Ravitch announced plans to retire next year, Gallaher launched a recall campaign. So far, he has invested more than $1.5 million of his own money in the recall. There are no other donors.
Neither the abandoned residents of Gallaher’s senior living homes nor the subsequent litigation is mentioned in the recall petition. No surprise there.
Moreover, the justifications that are listed are thin and misleading. For example, the petition says Ravitch “failed to pursue charges against large corporations that harm and pollute our community.” Oakmont Senior Living is just one example of Ravitch’s office prosecuting large corporations and wealthy individuals during her three terms as district attorney.
This year alone, Ravitch charged PG&E with five felonies and 28 misdemeanors related to the Kincade fire. Her office joined a $1.7 million “greenwashing” settlement with Target and several major pet product suppliers, and it’s pursuing a civil complaint against Hugh Reimers, a winery executive accused of destroying habitat and violating water quality laws. There are numerous other examples from throughout her tenure.
The petition references calls for greater law enforcement oversight, citing a recommendation made by an advisory committee of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission in 2000 — a decade before Ravitch was elected to her first term.
Perhaps most absurd is the claim that Ravitch has used her position to pursue personal vendettas. That appears to be what Gallaher is doing with his recall.
At one time, Gallaher was a supporter of Ravitch. He and his wife donated $2,750 each to her reelection campaign in 2014.
Will he turn on Santa Rosa City Council members next if they reject his proposal to build senior housing near Oakmont?
Ravitch was reelected twice without a serious challenge. If she were unseated now, her office — one of the top law enforcement posts in Sonoma County — would be vacant. No one filed to run in the recall election. Ravitch isn’t without critics, but many of them see the recall as nothing more than a vindictive act by someone she held accountable, and they are sticking with her. You should too. Vote no on the recall.
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