City of Merced tries to bulldog Hostetler

 Last year Greg Hostetler, doing business as Baxter Ranch, graded and filled the floodplain of Fahrens Creek upstream from Fahrens Park, putting several hundred homes downstream in danger of flooding the next time we have a wet winter in Merced. It is not the first time Hostetler has ignored environmental or public health and safety regulations and dickered for the amount of fines with whatever agencies dare to confront him after the fact. Mr. Hostetler belongs to the “Sin now, ask for forgiveness later” School of Business.
Hostetler, whether doing business as Baxter Ranch or as any of his other corporations, (1) seems to have a grudge against Fahrens Creek. His graders crossed it repeatedly preparing land for development near the Merced County Club during the height of the building boom. and he planted an almond orchard around it near the new El Capitan High School on G Street two or three years ago. The wells he installed for that orchard have been drying up domestic wells in the posh, unincorporated County Club section. Hostetler is a persona non grata to some residents of Poshville.
In fact, Hostetler is a serial abuser of the county’s natural wetlands. He deep-ripped, graded and planted 1,100 acres of his own property and hundreds of acres of others’ property near Le Grand without permits. The land was seasonal pastureland that contains numerous endangered species, wetlands and vernal pools. 
On October 21, the Merced City Council held the first of two meetings on the Hostetler Problem. The invocation was given by the president of the US-based Universal Society of Hinduism, Rajan Zed. Our council agenda for the evening called Mr. Zed, “the president of the Universal Society of Islam.”  Mr. Zed did not utter a word of Arabic but in Sanskrit he invoked Shakti, the Hindu divine force, the universal feminine principle of energy, power and creativity, to help our city council conduct the public’s business.
Evidently, City Hall was not up on its comparative religions nor has it yet heard about the Partition of India in 1947, the occasion for one of the greatest communal massacres of the 20th century (more than a million Hindus, Sikhs and Muslims were killed). How many Punjabis and their descendants does a county have to include before the basic facts of Sikh, Muslim and Hindu history in the Punjab can penetrate the walls in the minds that work in Merced City Hall? Or, to paraphrase the British imperialists, do they believe that the wogs begin in Livingston?  (2) 
The “Universal Islamic Society,” on the other hand, was founded in Detroit in 1926 and was a precursor of the Black Nationalists’ Nation of Islam.(3)
The council moved on to a declaration of Bullying Prevention Awareness Month. Attorney Ken Mackie, presented by Councilwoman Mary Michael Rawling, said that he had encountered bullying both as a teacher and as an employment attorney and that we should all become aware of it and that it should stop. We could not help but recall at this point the tape of an answering machine in Planada of a message from a developer to a county supervisor  that had somehow—as is sometimes the case in that part of Merced County—gone awry to the wrong phone.

Mrs. Crookham, this is Greg Hostetler calling. My cell number actually is 704-13** if you need to call me. I’m on a cell phone 'cause my other battery I’m trying to save that, preserve it you know. I’m into preserving things too from time to time, but anyway, uhm, I’m just calling you, uh, to let you know that…ah if you don’t already know… that we’ve had a lot of drama and trouble in the county … everywhere I do business [inaudible] apparently I guess because of Mrs. uh…Mrs. Deirdre Kelsey ah… thinks staff may need some help, because she’s climbing all over them… using [inaudible] staff for her personal pit bulls…trying to bite our people, and our staff — this is my opinion — causing a lot of drama in Livingston, for the City of Livingston and we’re trying to uh in the progress of uh in the process of installing a sewer line over there. If you haven’t talked to Dee Tatum, he could fill you in on what’s going on over there. But uh this probably will not end any time soon. So, I just wanted to give you the update, and if you could give staff any help I’d appreciate it… Thank you.(4)

Thus fortified by a shower of Shakti from the Divine Mother and the righteous indignation of right thinking people, the council dashed through the consent calendar to arrive at the main event: the City of Merced v. Greg Hostetler, dba Baxter Ranch. We were left to imagine how many cattle prods Greg Diaz, city attorney, has had to employ to get our elected council to face the Hostetler Problem.
What was this public hearing not about? First, it was not about the environment – for example, the creek and its floodplain as habitat for wildlife and fish -- even though environmental law, regulation and agencies could be involved in punishments of some kind. Second, it is not about the safety of the people and property that might be affected by flooding caused by Hostetler’s grading and filling of the Fahrens Creek floodplain.
The public hearing was about one thing: the legal liability of the city for having allowed Hostetler to grade and fill a floodplain, thus causing a potential flooding hazard within city limits. Even if the issue deals with a creek, it’s determined by needs finance, insurance and real estate special interests.
Nevertheless, there must be a public display because it is too threatening to civil illusions to observe that Hostetler, who for years has been trampling over elected officials, staff and state and federal  bureaucrats, is just doing business as usual.. Neither the developer nor the government want members of the public to realize quite how well the system works for the special interests, in this case particularly the government’s special interest in appearing to be a sincere representative of the public good and a good environmental steward.
Developers vary in style. “Guns, knives or lawsuits?” they inquire politely, before the hostilities commence.  Hostetler’s style seems to be to do the deed and try to avoid or severely limit any fines or other punishments he might incur later. To get away with this he has also used politicians and lobbyists, as well as lawyers. (One of his staunchest defenders has been former Rep. Dennis Cardoza, Shrimp Slayer-Merced.)
An assistant city attorney was tasked with building the case against Hostetler. In 2012, he said, Hostetler bought out a bankrupt subdivision of a master planned specific urban development plan called Bellevue Ranch, and soon set about grading and filling the floodplain lying within his domain. Hostetler asked the city in the spring if he could farm the land he now owned in the city. The city said he could with a conditional use permit. He did not request a CUP and began grading and filling. The city “learned that the wetlands west of Fahrens Creek were being graded and filled on August 14. On September 10, the state Department of Fish and Wildlife issued a “letter of violation” to Baxter Ranch, ordering it to stop all grading and filling. Hostetler’s reply was the claim that "we self-reported” to the US Army Corps of Engineers and that "we are now working out mitigation with them.” The assistant city attorney noted later that Hostetler chose to inform USACE and FEMA about his activities when the federal government was shut down and that the agencies haven’t done anything.
The city is up the creek, so to speak. They have the example in the recent past of this watershed causing major flooding downstream from Merced city limits yet costing the city, the county and the irrigation district terrifying sums in the millions for legal settlements.  But the Hostetler Problem is worse because the illegal earth work, which the city says has raised the floodplain four or five feet, has occurred within its sole jurisdiction and the flood damage most likely to occur would also be solely within its jurisdiction. (Hostetler claims it is more like four or five inches.)
The assistant city attorney, backed by the mayor, a former corporate lawyer who presently has something to do with airplanes at the former Castle Air Force base, said the city needs $!00,000 for “studies,” and that Hostetler will be required to reimburse the city for the full amount at some unspecified time in the future.
Hostetler wheedled and whined vigorously for half an hour that this was a waste of money because he has all the studies the city could ever want and more and he could make them available almost immediately and in 10 days from that hearing in October, all the problems would be solved anyway. So, the city should just wait those 10 days, he said.
On key, the mayor stepped up for the legal staff and told Hostetler – he had to explain this twice – that no lawyer would depend on the other party’s documents. In other words, this is going to end up in court.
But you must realize the loathing the hearts of elected officials contain for lawsuits. It is something they are taught very well by the people who appoint them as candidates.
So, there in City Hall that night stood elementary opposition.
On the one side the principles of Hostetler and other Experienced Businessmen: WE CAN WORK IT OUT.
On the other side flashing through the fragile nerves of the elected representatives of the people being herded by staff into a position critical of Business: LIABILITY.
The city attorney had left the council very little ground on which they could set up a stage to show how friendly to business they really are, if it weren’t for the lawyers, you know. Yet they seized that little street corner and instantly produced A COMPROMISE. 
They only gave the staff $45,000, not the $100,000 requested.
Mayor Thurston came as close to apologizing to Hostetler as he dared for fear of embarrassing himself in front of the local bar association, saying, “If we didn’t respect you, we wouldn’t have let you talk so long.”
Hostetler paid his respects to the city attorney’s office: “your staff is very diligent,” he said. With that, the street-corner theater ended.
Guns, knives or lawsuits, gentlemen?
Several weeks later, the council approved the other $55,000 staff had requested for the city’s independent studies of what Hostetler did.
How much trouble is the cow county oligarch actually in? Well, the Army Corps may require something of him; and on paper he is responsible for reimbursing the city for $100,000 for the studies. He should be required to restore the floodplain to its previous condition. And, if before he can do the restoration, a flood did occur (for example the afternoon of this posting, when the National Weather Service has announced a flood warning for urban creeks in Merced County) the $100,000 of studies should prove Hostetler’s liability, potentially adding more to his cost of doing business.
While no one can predict what cost Baxter Ranch will pay for “doing business,” if history is a guide, it will be at a large discount sealed in a confidential settlement.
More later. -- blj
1.Greg Hostetler is the President of Ranchwood Holdings, Inc. and holds active roles in twelve companies and inactive roles in seventeen additional companies .
Ranchwood Holdings, Inc. filed as an Articles of Incorporation in the State of California filed on Tuesday, February 08, 2000. This corporation is approximately fourteen years old according to documents filed with California Secretary of State. Ranchwood Holdings, Inc. also lists Arge Acres, LLC as Member.
Greg Hostetler's additional active roles include:
·         President of Ranchwood Homes Corp.
·         President of Ranchwood Residential, Inc.
·         President of Ranchwood Contractors, Inc.
·         Member of Hostetler Investments, LLC
·         Member of Hostetler Ranches, LLC
Greg Hostetler is connected to other officers through these corporate roles. One of the top connections is Caaresidential Home Building and
Greg's past corporate interests include the President of Pacific Terra, Inc. and the Managing Member of Lexington Farms, LLC Greg has additional archived roles with fifteen other companies including:
·         Past President of Pacific Terra, Inc.
·         Past Managing Member of Lexington Farms, LLC
·         Past Managing Member of R & H Equipment, LLC
·         Past Member of Southside Ranch, LLC
·         Past Member of Arge Acres, LLC
. Arge Acres, LLC filed as a Domestic in the State of California on Tuesday, November 12, 2002 and is approximately twelve years old, according to public records filed with California Secretary of State. The filing is currently active as of the last data refresh which occurred on Sunday, January 26, 2014.
Key People
CA1REAL Development serves as the Member and has interests in other corporate entities including Vineyards 14-18, LLCSouthside Ranch, LLC , and Orchard Terrace Estates, LLC .
Greg Hostetler was the Member of Arge Acres, LLC. Greg's additional corporate interests include Ranchwood Homes Corp.Ranchwood Contractors, Inc. and fifteen more corporations. Greg's past corporate affiliations include Pacific Terra, Inc., Lexington Farms, LLC and nine others.
Greg Hostetler is also the registered agent for the company. Also known as a statutory or resident agent, the registered agent is responsible for receiving legal notifications regarding court summons, lawsuits, and other legal actions involving the corporate entity.
Arge Acres, LLC also lists another corporation as a key member of the company.  Ranchwood Holdings, Inc.  serves as Member.
CA1REAL Estate Development is the Member of Vineyards 14-18, LLC and holds active roles in three companies.
Vineyards 14-18, LLC filed as a Domestic in the State of California filed on Tuesday, August 12, 2003. This corporation is approximately eleven years old according to documents filed with California Secretary of State. Vineyards 14-18, LLC also listsRanchwood Holdings, Inc. as Member.
CA1REAL Estate Development's additional active roles include:
·         Member of Orchard Terrace Estates, LLC
·         Member of Southside Ranch, LLC
·         Member of Arge Acres, LLC
CA1REAL Estate Development is connected to other officers through these corporate roles. One of the top connections is Greg Hostetler.
Orchard Terrace Estates, LLC also lists Ranchwood Holdings, Inc. as Member, in addition to CA1REAL's role of Member. This corporation was registered 0 years after Vineyards 14-18, LLC as a Domestic in the State of California on Monday, August 18, 2003.
2. Mr. Wigg, Labour MP for Dudley, 1949
I have heard the hon. Gentleman speak on this and every other occasion, and as the years roll by I recognize that language such as he uses is one of the main reasons for our political difficulties in the Colonial Empire. I recently had the opportunity of talking to some Burmese gentlemen, and one of the things they said was that they never realised until they came here and met ordinary people, what the British people were like. They thought they were all haughty and arrogant. The hon. Gentleman and his Friends think they are all "wogs." Indeed, the right hon. Member for Woodford (Mr. Churchill) thinks that the "wogs" start at Calais. If one views people like the hon. Gentleman from the angle of a private soldier, one realizes that to them there are black "wogs" and white "wogs." The attitude of hon. Members opposite to the black chap is not much different from the attitude of some of them towards the private soldier, and that is why the Forces have a great sympathy with the native peoples.--
4. “Public minutes: the Tehachapi Silver Bullet”