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Sonoma Valley Sun


Thompsons in DC; Planning Commission intrigue; super bet; and more

Posted on February 17, 2023 by Sonoma Valley Sun

Jennifer Gray Thompson, CEO of Sonoma-based nonprofit After the Fire USA, attended President Biden’s State of the Union address as a guest of Rep. Mike Thompson (no relation). “She has been instrumental in helping fire survivors recover and rebuild,” said the Congressman. “Our district has been ground zero for some of California’s worst wildfires, and the resilience of our communities and those who lost their homes, businesses, and livelihoods deserves recognition.” For gallery guest Gray Thompson, “it was a big life moment.” The occasion is much grander than what you see on television; she didn’t really notice the outbursts, for instance, but focused on the speech itself. “We’re always told we live in a very divided country, and in many ways that’s true, but you know, we’re all sitting there as people who are investing our time in America and in the dream of America.” And, she flat out loves Joe Biden. “Most transformational president of my lifetime. Don’t even try to talk me out of it.” Gray Thompson has lobbied on the state and federal levels before, working impressive rooms filled with important people. But, “this was the best people watching ever.”… She combined the DC visit with joining a team of wildfire survivors and delegates to push to make PG&E Fire Victim settlement payments federally tax-free. Without a change, that compensation money is taxable income. Congressman Thompson co-sponsored a bill to exempt it…. Oddly, Rep. Thompson was not actually in the House Chamber for Biden’s speech. As the government’s ‘dedicated survivor,’ he watched from an undisclosed location as part of the elaborate security protocol. Sounds like a TV show. Wait – it already was.

Robert McDonald, a member of the Sonoma Planning Commission since 2015, gave up his seat as of February 1, citing “personal and work issues.” The exit comes after McDonald sold two downtown houses at a tidy profit – to a company owned by Ken Mattson, the controversial real estate investor whose Sonoma Valley portfolio is approaching 100 properties. The homes at 454 and 446 Third St. W., county records show, were sold by McDonald for $6 million. They were last appraised, in 2022, for $641,739 and $1,009,391  Both hold vacation rental permits. Activist Veronica Napoles (meet her here), whose group Wake Up Sonoma is keeping a sharp eye on all things Mattson, called the deal “outrageous.” Particularly when “one of the owners was a city planning commissioner who retired soon after the close of escrow.”


A late-night fire gutted a 15,000-square-foot warehouse on Sonoma’s east side February 10. The two-alarm blaze was reported at about 11pm in the commercial space occupied by Luxxbox, an industrial design company. No injuries. It took about two hours to knock down the fire, which did not spread to adjacent buildings. The commercial building at 21885 Eighth St. happened to be owned by… LeFever Mattson, a property investment company of Ken Mattson. Seems you can’t go two paragraphs without seeing that name. 

The grapes are crushed and the numbers are in. Sonoma County crop was down 9% overall, with Pinot Noir (down 16.8%) and Chardonnay (down 12%) showing significant losses in tonnage. The California Department of Food & Agriculture reported for 2022 a statewide total of 3.35 million tons, the smallest winegrape crop since 2011. It was a harvest that saw Cabernet Sauvignon become the largest variety harvested in the state for the first time ever, overtaking  Chardonnay. Pricing per variety was mostly either flat or up with Cabernet and Sauvignon Blanc showing the biggest increases of the main varieties. Trickle down, but don’t spill. 

Larson Family Winery has kicked off its St. Patrick’s Day tradition – its annual Limerick Contest. Here’s last year’s winner: 

     We ventured to Larson for Cabs,

     And to frolic with three gorgeous Labs.

     OMG, such great wine!

     TLC was divine!

     And for free (the dog ate all our tabs)!

Entries are due by March 13 at


The City of Sonoma has chosen Bill Lynch as Honorary Alcalde (“Alcalde” is the Spanish name for Mayor) for 2023. It’s the city’s highest public service honor. His long civic resume includes starting the youth soccer program, forming a committee to establish the modern Vintage Festival and developing the Field of Dreams, serving as a volunteer firefighter, and as fundraiser for The Boys and Girls Club, and Sonoma Valley Hospital through many capital campaigns. Lynch was the owner/publisher of The Sonoma Index Tribune, the fourth generation of the family that had operated the paper for 128 years. (It sold in 2012 to the company now known as Sonoma Media). 

Protest-hopping activists could have caught two actions on the same night last week. First, a very gentle informational presence by Cultural Workers at the Sonoma Valley Museum of Art, silkscreening posters on-site for attendees heading inside for a meet-the-mayor session. Later, the more traditional rally and vigil at the Sonoma Mission Inn, where workers want to join a hospitality union. You could hold a candle in solidarity, notes Activist Annie, or observe from cozier environs – say, a $500+ room inside the hotel. “Exclusive of taxes, resort fees, room service, and, of course, a healthy tip.”

As the action closed on an exciting Super Bowl, a query rang out over the din. Hey Springs John, you just won your big bet, what will you do now? Came the reply and another beer: ”‘I’m going to Train Town!”


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