Last week, the North Bay Bohemian published an essay that tried hard to trash Gaye LeBaron. The popular weekly tabloid trashed only its own reputation instead.

The article by Peter Byrne, "The Shame of Santa Rosa: Whiteness, and the Culture of Lynching" (March 16, 2022) insinuated LeBaron is a passive racist and a cheerleader for murderous cops and vigilantes. Extraordinary accusations must be backed up with extraordinary evidence you'd think, but apparently the Bohemian does not agree.

In response I wrote a letter-to-the-editor which the paper did not publish online or in print, so I'm making it available below as an open letter to the Bohemian. I am not allowing comments on this posting because shouldn't be a forum for "atta boy" or "you suck" remarks or flame wars. If you want to comment on my opinions, please do so on FaceBook, Twitter or elsewhere on unsociable media.

This incident leaves me personally saddened. Thirty-odd years ago I wrote often for the Bohemian's predecessors, The Paper and the Independent, as well as writing a column about the early internet for the current publisher's flagship weekly the San Jose Metro. Despite this article I have great respect for the Bohemian; Will Carruthers' recent series on the eye-popping shenanigans by directors of the SMART rail line represents some of the best investigative reporting you'll find anywhere.

Some of the things in my letter may not make much sense without reading the original Bohemian article, so read it if you must. But do so with a warning that whiplash injuries may result; the essay careens wildly through all sorts of unrelated points, past and modern, all to deliver a message which seems damning only to its author.



 The rest of this article can be read at the website. Because of recurring problems with the Blogger platform, I am no longer wasting my time formatting and posting complete articles here. I will continue to create stubs for the sake of continuity, but will be publishing full articles only at

- Jeff Elliott

It took Santa Rosa awhile to realize it was under attack, but a no-holds-barred war was being waged against it by the man in the mansion on the grand boulevard.

You could say the conflict began in May 1893, when voters approved a bond to build a water plant. At the time Santa Rosa was getting its water from a private company owned by Mark L. McDonald; the water came from Lake Ralphine, which the Board of Health said was so fetid that his company was “criminally negligent and indifferent to our welfare as a city.” McDonald offered to sell his waterworks to the city at such a ridiculously inflated price it would be cheaper to start from scratch, even though it meant laying another set of water mains beneath every street. All of those doings were covered in "THE McDONALDS vs SANTA ROSA."

Stepping up to buy Santa Rosa's bonds was Robert Effey, a modest investor who happened to be mayor of Santa Cruz. While deciding whether to put the water bond on the ballot, Santa Rosa's mayor and city attorney had visited that town's very successful municipal water plant and met him. He offered to buy our bond for $161,000, being the lowest of only two bidders.

A few days later, a lawsuit seeking to block Santa Rosa from making a deal with Effey was filed by a retired farmer named John D. Cooper. Most unusual about the case was that besides the city, he also sued the City Council as individuals plus the city clerk.

Another suit to stop the city's deal with Effey followed a couple of weeks later. This time a retired rancher named John M. Jones was upset because construction plans had been updated since the bond measure passed. Mr. Jones likewise sued the city and Council members personally.

That was hardly the end of the anti-waterworks lawyering. Less than a month later, William Guisbert Skinner went after the city, the Council, the assessor, treasurer and tax collector along with Robert Effey. His gripe was the terms of the bond had been slightly changed, and the city was increasing property taxes by 25¢ per $100 to pay for the bonds - although they hadn't actually been yet sold. (As further explained below, the bond sale was delayed by both these lawsuits and the nation's economic problems.)

Three different lawsuits over about six weeks is a lot of suin' for little Santa Rosa. Who were these guys who were so upset about construction of a water plant they wanted to drag everyone into court? It appeared they must be well off, as their attorneys were some of the top legal talent in the county: A.B. Ware, Calvin S. Farquar and the infamous Gil P. Hall.

But Cooper, Jones and Skinner were hardly wealthy Sonoma County movers and shakers; one has to scour the old newspapers to find any mention of them at all, and then it was almost always for some small scale real estate transaction. There can be little doubt, however, they were acting as part of a coordinated attack on building the waterworks by the "Tax Payers’ Protective Union."

The supposed grassroots organization was formed at the time of the Cooper suit and few members were ever named (just A. P. Overton, H. W. Byington and A. B. Ware). The Democrat wrote only it was "composed of well-known and reputable citizens of Santa Rosa" and "members comprise many of the heaviest taxpayers in this city." Judging from signatures on a later petition, my guess is there were about three dozen members, split between the investor class and elderly anti-tax cranks like our litigious trio. Skinner, by the way, didn't even own property in Santa Rosa, although his suit was the one to complain about the increase in property taxes.

The Taxpayers’ placed an ad in the Democrat to trumpet their manifesto, which is a Thing to Read. It painted the City Council as recklessly draining the city treasury on "official extravagance" such as testing the safety of well water and buying a rock-crusher for street gravel, the Council meanwhile conspiring with Effey to screw over taxpayers because there was no intention to actually sell bonds or build the waterworks. Nice to know (I guess) a faction of our ancestors could be as paranoid and irrational as some wacky loudmouths today.

A later item in the Democrat reprinted a Taxpayers’ resolution revealing the group's single real objective - demanding the city buy McDonald's water company. Among their points was that "a water system supplied by gravitation" (meaning a source of surface water such as Lake Ralphine) is always better than using water pumped from the ground. Also, the city was to be blamed for "factional strife and expensive litigation" because they hadn't made a deal with McDonald to take over his service and pay for long overdue upgrades and maintenance. Some brain-busting logic, there.

At this point Gentle Reader might be pondering whether Mark McDonald had something to do with the Taxpayers’ Union - and could he also be paying the lawyers in those many lawsuits?

The rest of this article can be read at the website. Because of recurring problems with the Blogger platform, I am no longer wasting my time formatting and posting complete articles here. I will continue to create stubs for the sake of continuity, but will be publishing full articles only at

- Jeff Elliott

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