Usual Suspects

February 08, 1996
Usual Suspects

Dirty Tricks Alleged

They call it The Friendly City, but a whole lotta Rohnert Park residents are unamused by the latest shenanigans taking place at City Hall. First, City Council members and staff faced mounting pressure from homeowners to do something about negligent Building Department officials who failed to adequately inspect individual construction sites during the city's go-go building years--a situation that has led to a rash of costly building defects. Now Building Department staff are working overtime to doctor building permits to make it appear that more items were checked than on the original forms, according to informed sources. "It wouldn't surprise me," says Dawna Gallagher of the alleged coverup, the maverick councilwoman who has championed the fight to remedy the fiasco. Indeed, copies of building permits acquired by the Independent show numerous inconsistencies and imply that public records have been altered to indicate that inspections were made on houses for which the original building permits were left blank and unsigned. Some feel that the city may be bracing itself for a class-action lawsuit. City Manager Joe Netter could not be reached for comment. . . . Meanwhile, angry homeowners met last week with Sonoma County District Attorney Mike Mullins, who promised to determine whether there is evidence of criminal activity relating to the earlier charges of gross negligence. And now the Sonoma County grand jury--which last month blasted the city for failing to detect numerous faulty firewalls in local homes that are creating a public safety hazard--is investigating. A building-gate in the making?

Going for the Gold

Money is the stuff of political life. And in this Olympic year, local political hopefuls are launching a Herculean effort to outspend their predecessors. Dark horse candidate Dennis Chuning, director of operations for Jerry Brown's We the People organization--who is running for a chance to unseat Rep. Frank Riggs, R-Windsor, in the 1st Congressional District--may want to "put America back to work" (i.e., counter the inability of the working class to achieve a middle-class income), but he also wants to put a few campaign fundraisers out of work. At the Santa Rosa Democratic Club candidate forum on Jan. 24, Chuning challenged his four opponents--former San Francisco supe Carol Ruth Silver, Michaela Alioto, Bill Burton, and Monica Marvin--to sign a pledge limiting primary election expenses to $30,000 each, spending no more than $5,000 from personal accounts and accepting no more than $5,000 from interests outside the district. Chuning calls large campaign contributions "thinly disguised bribes." He complains that 90 percent of races are won by the biggest spenders and has given the candidates until Feb. 17 to sign the agreement. So far, no takers. District candidates will debate, tentatively on Feb. 27, at the Senior Center in Healdsburg. Call 433-6946. . . . Meanwhile, Chuning has sued the California Democratic Party for failing to notify him about the party's conference that resulted in an endorsement for party insider Marvin. The lawsuit, filed at U.S. Federal Court, east District of California in Sacramento, seeks to bar the party from ratifying the endorsement.

Hey, Big Spender

Big bucks are the name of the game in the 5th Supervisorial District, where west county candidates have squeezed a record amount of cash from backers. The seven hopefuls vying for the soon-to-be-vacated seat of retiring supe Ernie Carpenter have amassed over $130,000--several thousand dollars more than candidates spent in 1980, the last time the west county supervisorial seat was open--and are expected to spend a whopping $200,000. Businessman Bill Dowd is leading the pack with a hefty $58,500 war chest. Most disconcerting of all for some longtime west county residents is the growing influence of dollars from outside the district and the gush of wine industry money, especially from E. & J. Gallo. Wine money accounts for a hefty 53 percent of contributions to 5th District candidate Laurence Sterling. All this cash is contributing to fears that influence from special interests--particularly an industry often criticized for insensitive environmental policies--is growing like, well, grapes on a vine.

From the Feb. 8-14, 1996 issue of the Sonoma Independent

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