Long Gulch debt on docket

By Alex MacLean / The Union Democrat

Groveland Community Services District board members are scheduled to meet again next month to consider whether to forgive debts attached to the failed Long Gulch Ranch real estate development.

The Long Gulch Ranch issue, which is related to an old debt left by the land's former developers, won't come up again until a Dec. 16 meeting, where the GCSD board could take action on a proposed settlement.

Members of the public, county government leaders and the Long Gulch Ranch landowners gathered in the gymnasium at Tioga High School last week to discuss the settlement offer from Long Gulch Ranch, Limited Partnership, the current landowners.

The partnership proposes paying the original loan amount of $84,000, while GCSD would forgive penalties and interest which resulted in liens being placed on the land.

The debts were originally amassed by Yosemite Club Partners - a Berkeley-based partnership headed by developer Dan Levin and attorney Tom Dashiell. Yosemite Club Partners proposed building a 327-home gated golf course subdivision on the 1,158-acre property. The Long Gulch Ranch project was originally approved by the county in 1996.

Yosemite Club Partners in 2005 purchased the property for $5 million from an investment group that earlier unsuccessfully attempted to develop the property - Petaluma-based Long Gulch Ranch, Limited Partnership.

Long Gulch Ranch, LP operating partner Brian Fitzgerald said Yosemite Club Partners paid $2 million down, and his group carried the loan for the rest. He said the $2 million was divided among the LP's 30 partners at the time, which included his father, P. Marshal Fitzgerald.

Yosemite Club Partners went bankrupt around the time of the 2008 housing market crash. Long Gulch Ranch, LP took back ownership of the property through bankruptcy court.

If the proposed settlement is accepted, the original amount owed to GCSD would be spread across all parcels at about $72 an acre and paid down as they sold over a maximum period of five years. Possible penalties for late payment would have to be decided at the negotiating table.

The district placed several liens on the property totaling $84,000 in 2009 in an effort to recoup money spent to review Yosemite Club Partners' application for water and sewer services. County Clerk/Auditor Debi Bautista said the amount owed to GCSD has grown to $160,000, including penalties and interest.

Fitzgerald explained the goal is to get the debt cleared from the title so the property can be taken over by a land-conservation group. The first phase involves selling about 560 acres to the state Fish and Wildlife Department.

Lester Schofield, horse-stable manager at Pine Mountain Lake, has worked with the Fitzgeralds for many years to open up the property for public horseback riding trails. He attended the meeting to support their proposed settlement agreement with GCSD, which he thought was fair considering the district's management at the time overspent the initial development deposit.

Yosemite Club Partners deposited $135,000 into a development account for GCSD's costs, but the district's total expenses on the project grew to $219,000 by 2008.

Former GCSD General Manager Jim Goodrich sent a letter to Dashiell in November 2007 asking Yosemite Club Partners to replenish the account because the district's fees had gone over the initial deposit by about $48,000. Another $36,000 was spent after the letter was sent, though no payment was ever made from the former developers.

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The Union Democrat
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