The Sonora Union High School District likely will complete the sale of the 137-acre Wildcat Ranch to the Sonora-area nonprofit The Park Foundation during a special meeting of the board scheduled for Tuesday night.
Board President Jeanie Smith said details regarding the price and how much acreage of the property will be sold won’t be available until the board approves the resolution.
“Until both parties have signed, then the negotiations are ongoing,” she said.
Smith said she had no additional comment on the sale of the ranch.
District Superintendent Dr. Mark Miller was the district intermediary with legal counsel coordinating the deal, she said.
Miller and Park Foundation President Ron Jacobs were not available for comment.
The debate over Wildcat Ranch has intensified in recent months following legal challenges from the public and declarations from the district that they intended to sell the property before three new board members are seated on Dec. 11.
For months, the negotiations for the Wildcat Ranch have taken place in closed session. For the first time, the agenda item will move from the closed session to an open session, with the board scheduled to vote on the resolution Tuesday night.
Trustees Kathy Ankrom, Rob Lyons and Jeff Norstrom did not seek reelection and will be replaced by Nancy Scott, Jim Riggs and Erik Andal at the first regular meeting following the special meeting on Tuesday.
Multiple other board agenda items set for Dec. 4 will seek to quash those potential legal challenges threatened to the board during its last meeting on Nov. 6.
At the Nov. 6 meeting, Richard Gaiser and Shaun Crook, two men closely affiliated with the agriculture community in Tuolumne County, said the board violated the Brown Act by allowing the Park Foundation representatives into an Oct. 23 closed session meeting regarding the potential sale of the Wildcat Ranch.
Both issued a cease and desist letter to the district that mandated the issuance of an “unconditional commitment letter” to no longer bring second parties into closed session meetings.The board has 60 days to respond to the Brown Act allegation, but if they do not respond within 30 days, the two members of the public who submitted the cease and desist letter could pursue litigation against the district.
Smith said it was “her expectation” that the board will approve the unconditional commitment letters for both Gaiser and Crook on the agenda. She said the approvals would be within the legal timeline because the resolution was expected to be passed at the Dec. 4 special meeting, 28 days after the allegations were submitted.
At the Nov. 6 meeting, a representative of the Tuolumne Heritage Committee suggested that the sale of public property was subject to a review under California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).
A board resolution set for Tuesday will seek to exempt the district from pursuing that review on the grounds that the sale of the ranch will not have a significant effect on the environment.
The board resolution states that the sale of the property does not involve “the cumulative impact of successive projects of the same type in the same place;” and that there is no “reasonable possibility” that there will be an effect on the property due to “unusual circumstances.”
The resolution also states that the sale will not have an adverse effect on historical resources, or “scenic resources” such as trees, historic buildings or rock outcroppings.
Sharon Marovich of the Tuolumne County Heritage Society suggested that there could be Native American artifacts and a diversity of wildlife at the site, which would bar the district from an exemption.
Failure to comply with CEQA could expose the district to legal action, she said.
Smith said she had not read the language of the resolution and declined to comment.
The board will also consider a resolution to adopt “new courses of study” for Agriculture Mechanics to an introductory course, an intermediate course, and an advanced course.
Smith said she did not know whether the resolution would augment or replace the current Agriculture Mechanics curriculum.
The Wildcat Ranch was appraised by Wright Appraisals in Sonora at $820,000, or $5,987 per acre, during the tenure of former Superintendent Pat Chabot. The property is zoned A-10, or general agricultural with a 10-acre minimum parcel size.