LeFever Mattson and the real estate purchases that alarmed Sonoma residents

But only four LeFever Mattson properties are in the Sonoma Opportunity Zone, a part of the Springs that runs north-south between Hwy. 12 and Sonoma Creek.

Wake Up organizers also point to the many red ink sales, with one LeFever Mattson affiliate selling to another at a loss. They wonder if the lower sale price will result in lower property taxes, depriving local government of revenue.

Probably not, according to Sonoma County Assessor Deva Proto.

“The assessed value will be based on the market value, not just the sales value,” Proto said.

“We will look at comparable properties to determine market value, especially if something is not an open market transaction. Depending on the situation, if you own both businesses, the transfer may not be defined as a qualified change of ownership.”

Overall, though, there are too many question marks over LeFevre Mattson to temper the disbelief.

“At some point they’re going to have to tell us what they’re doing,” said Mary Samson of Wake Up Sonoma.

Avoiding the limelight

But Ken Mattson may think otherwise.

As opposition grew, with the phrase “Go Home Ken” plastered over electrical boxes in downtown Sonoma and anti-Matson stickers appearing at bus stops, he continued to avoid the limelight.

Mattson and LeFevre almost never speak publicly. One notable exception was a Nov. 16, 2022 meeting to present the Springs Plaza proposal, when Mattson addressed the room for just under two minutes.

“I understand there’s concern,” he said that night.

“We’re doing a lot of things in the city, but I believe the big picture we have for the area is completely in line with what’s been talked about for the last 20 or 25 years.”

It wasn’t enough to soften his resistance. The prolonged reticence created a vacuum, and into it rushed a flood of speculation.

“When you live in a small community and things happen where there’s limited communication, what comes from that is what I would call an evolution of rumors,” said Sonoma City Councilman Ron Wellander. “And what happens is these rumors take on a life of their own.”

Despite spiraling theories about Mattson and LeFever’s intentions, there may not be real bombs behind what they’re doing in Sonoma.

Damien Archbold, whose Napa Valley real estate group is currently listing several properties for more than $6 million each, had not heard of Ken Mattson before speaking with The Press Democrat. But after hearing Mattson’s summary of the buying pattern, Archbold didn’t react with alarm.

On the contrary, he thinks it makes perfect sense.

“Part of what I suggest to people who come here to invest is that Napa is undervalued. I would say the same about Sonoma,” said Archbold, who has an MBA in finance and worked as an investment banker.

“If you look at the U.S. as a whole and then ask, ‘Okay, what happened after COVID?’, you’ve had a real real estate movement driven by low interest rates. Many markets — Austin, Las Vegas, Scottsdale — skyrocketed. Napa and Sonoma went up, but not nearly at the same rate.”

Where many of Mattson’s neighbors in Sonoma see red flags, Archbold sees sophisticated tactics.

Hard cash loans? They make sense, he said, if you have to “make a deal tomorrow.”

Overpaying for some properties? The expense may be worth it if it makes the overall real estate portfolio more attractive and if the person acquiring the land plans to sell property or tap into the equity in the future, Archbold said.

The same rationale may explain why LeFever Mattson Sonoma’s holdings are all over the map—both literally and in value.

It’s all about building a “blended portfolio,” Archbold said. Some properties may be fully developed and generate cash flow. Others are more of a long-term investment. Maybe the owner just put a fence around them.

“In the short term, you could have a lot of debt,” Archbold said.

“But if you have the reserves to service the debt, the portfolio can be very attractive to larger funds that want to diversify, or that hold a significant amount of real estate as a hedge against other investments. It’s just an investment strategy. Personally, I think it’s not bad.”

Elements of the scenario described by Archbold are corroborated by public records.

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