A Tuolumne County Superior Court Judge temporarily halted the sale of the Sonora Union High School District-owned Wildcat Ranch to a Sonora-area non-profit on Thursday.

The temporary restraining order will last 15 days until a preliminary injunction hearing scheduled for April 12. On April 12, a judge can decide whether the sale can be halted through the end of a civil lawsuit filed against the school district by the Tuolumne County Farm Bureau.

Judge Kevin M. Seibert said the district had not provided adequate evidence that they gave notice to all public agencies on their intention to sell the property.

“How am I supposed to make a decision you complied with that requirement if you haven’t provided anything to the court?” Seibert said. “Assumption is not a currency in this court.”

The Wildcat Ranch is an approximately 137 acre agricultural property owned by the school district, located at the corner of Tuolumne Road and Wards Ferry Road in Sonora. On Dec. 4, the district announced the sale of 112 acres of the property to the Park Foundation for $1 million for a regional community park.

Seibert said during the hearing the only evidence submitted was a sworn declaration from Superintendent Mark Miller.

Miller said after the hearing the litigation was considered ongoing and counsel will determine the next steps.

The district’s attorney, Anne Collins, declined to comment after the hearing.

Ron Jacobs, president of the Park Foundation, said the ruling did not jeopardize the agreement.

“We are proceeding with the deal. It is a tremendous benefit to our community at large,” he said.

Kelly Aviles, the attorney representing the farm bureau, said the group was pleased with the court’s decision.
“It’s definitely the right call to ensure the district follows the law, not that it just gets to dispose of the property,” she said.

Seibert said his decision was based on his determination that the farm bureau had a probability of winning the case against the district, but added evidence could still be provided at the next hearing, which validated the claims of the district.

“It doesn’t seem like evidence that should have been hard to get frankly,” he said of the notices.

The district said they adhered to a tiered process of education code, which specified when public organizations are notified of the availability of surplus property. The district declared the Wildcat Ranch surplus on July 18, 2018, after a district advisory committee recommended to the board of trustees that it not be.

Seibert also said he rejected the district’s argument that the civil court has “toothless remedies” related to nullifying a deal.

Seibert added because of an internet outage at the courthouse, he was unable to do additional research related to the farm bureau’s claims that the Park Foundation violated the Brown Act.

Contact Giuseppe Ricapito at (209) 588-4526 or gricapito@uniondemocrat.com . Follow him on Twitter @gsepinsonora.

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