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.