Merced Development Rodeo: Ol' Hoss calls out the Mayor

Greg Hostetler remarks to Merced Mayor Stan Thurston
Oral Communications 
Merced City Council Meeting
January 5, 2015
Hostetler's statement relates to material from the December 15, 2014 Merced City Council Meeting:
Greg Hostetler (reading a prepared statement): Greg Hostetler, 2204 Crown Road.
Ladies and Gentlemen, Mayor, Council and Staff, thank you for the opportunity to speak.
I'm here tonight to address the Mayor, Mr. Stan Thurston, with some of my thoughts about the council meeting, December 15, 2014. I felt with all the effects -- efforts, of the city staff and the Baxter Ranch Team, that you would have been more favorably disposed, Mayor. Their efforts should have been applauded. Instead, Mr. Mayor, you began making condescending remarks about what you called my 'entourage' of four people (three registered state-Capitol lobbyists and a lawyer from Modesto--blj). Just an observation of your definition on 'entourage': You had at least nine staff members sitting for the entire meeting, some of whose...apparent value of being here wasting taxpayer dollars. There was nothing on the agenda for them to address. It was the holidays and they could easily been home with their families. In my opinion, your treatment and conduct appeared to be creating a hostile work environment for staff repeatedly interrupting, yelling, being accusatory.
Your remarks, conduct and demeanor to staff and fellow councilmen and the public lacked professionalism and courtesy (three members of California Strategies, one of the most powerful lobbying firms in Sacramento, two of them former elected officials from the north San Joaquin Valley, and two of the project proponent's lawyers do not "the public" make -- blj).
And the leadership expected of your mayor -- you should be really disappointed in your conduct. For the last year and a half you have made numerous inaccurate, untruthful and misleading statements to staff and the public about Baxter Ranch and myself, personally, when the truth was readily available and still is. (Allow us to attempt interpretation; after Thurston called Hostetler out at the Dec. 15 meeting, honestly laying down his reasons for opposition to yet another scheme Ol' Hoss came up with to circumvent and highjack established public process, yet Thurston lost the decision because campaign-support promises, political intimidation and petty resentments outweigh reason among the featherweights on this council. But, evidently, resentment on the council was minimal compared to that of Ol' Hoss's "Team," who must have retreated to the CalStrat "Team HQ" and devised a strategy of corporate mudslinging to try to neutralize the Mayor's clear arguments against the high jacking of public process. Highly paid, expert corporate mudslingers composed this little statement Ol' Hoss is delivering. It's ingenious. They're trying to start a personal feud between two leading citizens of the county behind which they hope to manipulate the public process by getting a majority of the council to vote their resentment of the mayor. We see the outlines of the newest developer techniques to turn public processes over to private "management" being field tested among the economically ruined communities left in the wake of the Great Housing Bust of 2008. Among the ruins of unfinished subdivisions ringing urban areas in the region are those of Ranchwood Homes Corporation,  Ol' Hoss's very own development outfit.--blj)
Your imagination and linguistic skills are taking the place of the truth. You have been using political sound bites to create the illusion of caring. Sir, you say you like me, you call me "cool," and you have nothing against me. And, however, your actions prove otherwise. You champion the reckless spending of both public and private funds -- well over a quarter of a million dollars -- on the Baxter Ranch issue alone. (And then former City Attorney Greg Diaz departed, leaving Thurston without his most articulate ally in exposing the dangers Ol' Hoss's reckless management of the floodplain right down the middle of Baxter Ranch -- preparing it for an orchard -- has caused. As it is, the staff that should be helping, Planning Director Dave Gonzalves, is in Ol' Hoss's vest pocket, Thurston knows it and made it pretty plain in the last council meeting in what amounted to a publicly needed cross-examination. We apologize to Dave for having misspelled his last name in previous posts -- blj)
You have been trying to create a paranoia the entire time. (We're supposed to trust Ol' Hoss -- blj)
Your comments were argumentative and confrontational. (Ol' Hoss's legal entourage is writing a brief here -- blj)
You interrupted Carol Whiteside six times in her 5-minute presentation. (Yeah, he asked her where the water was going to come from -- Unforgiveable-- blj)
You insulted Ted Harris and George Petrulakis without cause. (You can't insult lawyers. Even Ol' Hoss knows that. It would have been nonfeasance in office for Thurston not to have said what he said to the two developer mouthpieces, neither one of whom appeared sensitive, exactly. -- blj)
You repeatedly interrupted and argued with Councilman Pedrozo and Councilman Murphy.
I take exception to your threatening remarks and gritting your teeth at me as I left the podium. That was inappropriate and uncalled for. If this issue is from my lack of support for your last campaign as major, that is unfortunate. (The public needs to know how far Ol' Hoss's support has gone from Councilman Pedrozo and his father, County Supervisor John Pedrozo, because Councilman Pedrozo is so grounded in agricultural scofflawism he probably should not be allowed to sit on any city council. Murphy, the ex-Orrick Silicon Valley office corporate lawyer, having held up the entire proceeding for about 20 minutes with his attempt to get himself conflicted out of having to cast a vote, straddled the bobwire fence and fell off on Ol' Hoss's side -- big surprise! -- blj)
I think you have a personal agenda. You're not being transparent. You tried to have the item unilaterally removed from the agenda, which is unlawful. (If true, how would Ol' Hoss, the soul of transparency himself, have known that? -- blj) You are a lawyer and a mayor and you know better. (He is definitely baiting Stan the Mayor -- blj)  That was an overzealous overreach of authority.
I hope that you are not using city staff and taxpayer money for your own agenda. To some people your conduct appears like a dictator and not a mayor or a good leader. You should be happy that I cleaned up the property and I want to farm in a farming community and create jobs. (Has anyone ever calculated the costs to the taxpayers caused by Ranchwood Homes Corporation's unfinished tracts and foreclosure ghettoes around the county and beyond?--blj)
You have refused to meet with me or members of my team to discuss the benefits and the facts.
Mr. Mayor, it is time for you to make a positive change, review your disrespectful conduct, for some of your friends and consultants are no longer going to accept misleading, slandering and bemirching comments about my property, my team or myself.
You are on formal notice that I will not allow my constitutional rights to be violated. I hope that in the future, you are more careful. (And, Ol' Hoss, when you buy a bankrupt subdivision with a specific development plan that does not grant the right to farm on it and, rather than going through a well established public process for applying to change the plan, you try to highjack the process with a gang of lawyers and lobbyists, you should expect resistance from the jurisdiction's elected representatives, not complicity in corruption of the public process. What's disgraceful is the contempt of council members Blake, Dossetti, Murphy, Lor and Pedrozo for that process. Equally disgraceful is Ol' Hoss's confidence that he can buy or threaten any public official in Merced County -- but the odds have been in his favor so far. -- blj)
I remain ready to meet, discuss any of the above items and I thank you and the community for this opportunity to speak. (Sounds like shades of the soda-fountain summit between Ol' Hoss and Los Banos Mayor Michael Amabile over development fees for schools during the height of the real estate boom. -- blj)
At this point we would like to direct readers to a March 10, 2006 article in Badlands Journal that provides background to Mr. Hostetler's relations with government, in this case with the extremely complicit Merced County government. Dave Gonzalves, the City of Merced's present planning director, was an assistant planning director at the County at the time of the events related below. -- blj
Badlands Journal
Merced County Development Rodeo: Ranchwood Event
San Joaquin Raptor/Wildlife Rescue Center and other members of the concerned public always wondered how developers in Merced County rode roughshod over local, state and federal environmental laws, regulations, agencies and its own public. But, rarely have they been granted the insight provided by this telephone message, recorded on Feb. 3, 2006.
Badlands has blocked out the last two numbers of the telephones the developer left for return calls from the supervisor he thought he'd called as a courtesy to the developer.
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!
End of message…to erase this message press 7, to save it press 9, to hear more options press 0. To replay this message press 4, to get envelope information about this message press 5. To…. Sent February 3rd, at 11:48 am from phone number 704-13** duration 1 minute 14 seconds. To erase this message press 7. To save it press 9. This message will be saved for 21 days. End of messages.
On Feb. 9, City of Livingston Mayor Brandon Friesen wrote San Joaquin Raptor/Wildlife Rescue Center and members of the public, accusing them of “conducting a documented pursuit and vendetta against Ranchwood Homes.” The mayor said public questions raised and public requests for documentation on this project have "placed our City in the middle of mud slinging and we will not stand for it.”
· The 42-inch sewer trunk line from the City of Livingston: Mr. Hostetler, who does business as Ranchwood Homes, is referring to a mile-long sewer trunk line he built from the corner of the Livingston wastewater treatment plant to a few yards away from where he plans to build a subdivision. The trunk line is built entirely outside the jurisdiction of the City of Livingston in land under county jurisdiction. On Feb. 16, when the project was still incomplete, County Counsel Ruben Castillo wrote a letter to the city attorney of Livingston instructing him in the number of laws the city had broken by "approving" this project beyond its jurisdiction. However, by Feb. 28, the project was completed and the 42-inch, mile-long sewer pipeline was covered over. The public has been granted access to neither city, county nor LAFCO files on this project, despite requests to county CEO Dee Tatum, county Counsel Ruben Castillo, county Director of Planning and Economic Development Robert Lewis, Local Agency Formation Commission Director John LeVan, and the county Board of Supervisors. A request for a meeting with CEO Tatum and department heads has also gone unanswered. The County has taken no action.
· 1,000 acres in North Merced: Ranchwood cleared approximately 1,000 acres of pasture bounded by G Street, La Paloma, Merced Country Club and Old Lake Road, north of Merced. The field crossed Fahrens Creek. Ranchwood put in field roads crossing the creek at two locations, tore out all vegetation along the creek and pushed freshly disked dirt into the stream. The land contains wetlands, is probably habitat for federal and state protected species. There are probable violations of the federal Endangered Species and the Clean Water Act. The public filed a request for code enforcement with Merced County. The County took no action.
· 300 acres near Le Grand: Ranchwood disked and deep-ripped a portion of a 300-acre field on the corner of White Rock and Le Grand roads in county jurisdiction. The land contains wetlands, is probably habitat for federal and state protected species. There are probable violations of the federal ESA and CWA. The public filed a request for code enforcement with Merced County. The County took no action.
· 1,100 acres near Le Grand: Ranchwood deep-ripped, leveled and disked approximately 1,100 acres of seasonal pasture land on the SE intersection of Buchanan Hollow and White Rock roads, also near Le Grand. The pastures contained small streams, wetlands, vernal pools and federal and state protected species. The public filed a request for code enforcement with Merced County. The County took no action.
These are significant conversions of land. Merced County should have directed Ranchwood to do proper environmental review before proceeding. Instead Merced County turned a blind eye to these significant conversions.
State and federal agencies were notified and are expected to uphold regulatory compliance on these projects.
· Franklin County Sewer District: Ranchwood excavated two additional percolation ponds in a field west of Santa Fe Road north of Highway 59 to service a subdivision Ranchwood is building in the Franklin-Beachwood area. The public has requested documentation on this project.
· Land swaps in Planada:
On April 22, 2003, J&J Family Trust sold a parcel of approximately 20 acres on Gerard Road to the Central Valley Coalition for Affordable Housing for $300,000 (approximating from the tax assessment of 1 percent).
On October 10, 2003, CVCAH sold the parcel to the Merced County Housing Authority for $300,000 (according to what MCHA official Nick Benjamin told members of the Planada public).
On Dec. 2, 2004, a complex land swap took place in Planada.
A. MCHA sold the same parcel (APN# 053-145-024) to the Pacific Holt Corp. for $550,000 (according to the tax assessment).
B. A.K. Karmangar, a Planada farmer, sells two parcels (approximately 20 acres) to the MCHA for $550,000 (according to the tax assessment).
C. Pacific Holt sells parcel APN# 053-145-024 to Mr. And Mrs. D. Tatum (CEO Merced County) for $269,500.00 (according to the tax assessment).This is apparently a savings of $280,500.00 to the Tatums for a piece of property Pacific Holt bought the same day for approximately twice as much as they sold it to the Tatums.
On Sept. 29, 2005, Hostetler Investment, LLC filed a memorandum of right of option to Pacific Holt Corp to purchase 50 percent of any or all Wallace and Karmangar property actually acquired by Hostetler, and at the actual gross per-acre price. “For instance, if, as expected, Hostetler actually acquires the entirety of the Karmangar Property containing 410+/- gross acres, the Option would apply to 205 +/- acres. The purchase price for both the Wallace Property and the Karmangar Property shall be the actual gross per acre price paid by Hostetler to purchase the Wallace Property and the Karmangar Property which shall be payable in cash on or before the close of escrow.”
On Dec. 23, 2005, a new entity, Pacific Holt Residential Communities, filed for a county General Plan Amendment for residential construction as the owner of 1,390 acres to be added to the Planada SUDP and to be known as the Village of Geneva at Planada. The acreage is composed of Karmangar and Wallace contiguous parcels.
Pacific Holt Residential Communities consists of Hostetler Investments LLC, Pacific Holt Corp., Premiere Partners III of Illinois, Bear Creek Ranch Inc. and local land holders, Bud Wallace, Inc, Opie and Elizabeth Wallace, Partners, and Hare &Sessions Development, Seattle WA.
The County approved the 2003 Planada Community Plan Update to the Merced County General Plan. The PHR Communities property lies outside of the Planada SUDP except for a 20-acre parcel. The Planada Community Plan has been legally challenged and the case is now in state appellate court.
This is by no means all the Ranchwood Homes projects, even in Merced County alone. It’s just a few examples the public has been able to collect from the east side of the county.
Could county CEO, Dee Tatum, fill in the public (after he’s explained it to Supervisor Crookham) on leapfrog, chaotic, unplanned development – the low, cowboy standards of Merced County planning with an out-dated General Plan, speculation-driven development and a new, incompetent planning director? Why does the County routinely disregards proper public process, the protection of public resources? Why has it shown neither the political will nor the ability to plan coherently in the midst of a speculative real estate boom that began before UC Merced was a “done deal”?
Would CEO Tatum explain why he hired a planning director from Nevada who is incompetent in California environmental law or public processes like the Public Records Act?
Could Supervisor Kathleen Crookham illuminate the public on her special relationship with Ranchwood Homes? Would Supervisor Jerry O’Banion of Los Banos explain how Ranchwood Homes does business, since O’Banion knows all things that occur on the west-side turf he shares with Ranchwood?
The Merced County public should ask how county government can do anything but build a reputation as the most corrupt local land-use authority in the state when the top Democrat opponent of environmental law and regulation in the House of Representatives and one of the key fixers behind UC Merced, Rep. Dennis Cardoza, Shrimp Slayer-Merced, is welcome to sit on the third floor of the county administration building.
The University of California, aided by Cardoza, former Rep.Gary Condit, Blue Dog-Ceres, the Condit children, Gov.Gray Davis and compliant state resource agency heads, railroaded (the term “fast-tracked” was substituted) UC Merced through environmental law, regulation and took local land-use authority, set the cowboy standards for development in Merced County. UC also acquainted local land-use jurisdictions with the magic of legal indemnification against legal challenges brought to protect Merced County natural resources, air, water, agricultural land, infrastructure, public health and safety, and endangered species as well as protecting proper public process.
Bill Hatch
Former Design Review Commissioner: Mayor, Council, I come here tonight because as a former commissioner of the Design Review Commission (the speaker gave no name or address for the public, but seemed to be known to city officials -- blj) ... at our last public meeting I was kind of left at a loss as to whether or not our city council has violated the Brown Act. What this is is regarding the Resolution #2014-50. And, I do not know if we did a disservice to the applicant by the city's action. I believe it is warranted to be looked at to see if procedure was followed by city staff in the recommendation to the applicant as to the proper procedure as to what would be followed when submitting his application.
One of the things I often hear when watching city council, state, congressional hearings is the word, transparency. And I often think what does that mean in the scope of my own life as a citizen of the United States and an active member of our community. I think often when the actions which are taken by the City are taken with a great deal of thought, care and compassion, about the residents and citizens that live within this city although the last few council meetings I have watched I have kind of sat up and wondered are we doing everything we can to insure the transparency for our own citizens.
When the applicant came forward and said that he was told by staff that the proper way to proceed with his application was to go to the City Council and bypass the Planning Commission, I felt it was an affront to me as a former commissioner, an affront to those commissioners who have served on boards that have acted with the best interests of the community and the citizens of Merced.
I do not understand why it occurred this way. I have more questions than I do answers. But while I was looking at the city website to find information, I ran across a couple of interesting little pieces of information I would like to share with you.
One of them -- and I do recommend that the city residents of the city of Merced go to the website and look -- and this is a chart of how our authority is broken down (holding up a diagram--blj) and who is in charge and what it ultimately means to us as residents.
On the top of it here we are, the residents of Merced. The City Council is answerable to us. And the city manager oversees the daily operations of what occurs, not only on a small scale but the large decisions that have to be made.
It concerns me when I watch city personnel come up here to give presentations to the council for either their recommendation or advice and often times what I have observed is that some departments come up here and are not prepared or do not have full answers available to the council yet the decisions that are being made are impacting us both financially and in a great sense the humanity of it.
When I look at things like McNamara Park and the soccer pitch that was constructed, I see it vacant and I hear words that say, "We'll get to it once we solve who's to blame." And I think, how can we continue to move forward on projects when we can't even complete a project, when we can't even finish something out, when we can't even tell a resident, "Your taxes have paid for it, the contractors have done their work, now go have fun."
To me it's a disservice to this community. It's a disservice to the residents, and because I believe in my constitutional right I will stop there. But I appreciate this moment to at least share my thoughts.