Thursday, December 11, 2008

The latest on West Park

Some things have happened since the last time we reported on the City of Patterson's lawsuit against the West Park development, but we're basically back where we started — i.e., waiting for a decision on the county's motion to dismiss the suit.

Last week, a Fresno County Superior Court judge denied a motion from the city to dismiss the current motion — if you're scoring at home, that's a denial of the motion to dismiss the motion to dismiss the case. So on Tuesday, we should get a ruling on the motion to dismiss the case. That's the ruling that was initially scheduled to be made on Oct. 16.

It looks like we're headed for a trial on Jan. 29, assuming the case doesn't get dismissed. It seems unlikely that the judge would throw out the case, given the recent state Supreme Court ruling in a similar case, but we won't know for sure on that until Tuesday. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Election update from Lee Lundrigan

Below is a press release sent out Monday by Lee Lundrigan, Stanislaus County clerk and registrar of voters. It certainly appears there are enough ballots out there to change the course of the Del Puerto Health Care District race multiple times. A full update will appear in Wednesday's Irrigator.

Stanislaus County Elections Update

The canvass of the Presidential General Eelction vote continues. Results from Friday's count of the 28,000 plus absentee / vote by mail ballots received on or just before Election Day have been posted on the website. Scanning of the names of Election Day voters located on the polling place rosters has been completed. The hand review of all ballots cast at the polls to identify qualified write-in candidates for U.S. President and for the 19th Congressional District is underway. Reconciliation of each of the 183 polling site rosters and materials is being processed and is expected to take several days.

Over 8,450 provisional ballots and 1,900 military, damaged, 7-day absentee, and reconcillation ballots remain to be reviewed and processed before they are ultimately counted. The office will be closed Tues. November 11th in observance of the Veterans Day holiday. The remainder of the canvass will continue until complete. California law requires certification of this election to be on or before December 2nd, which is 28-days following Election Day.

Lee Lundrigan, Clerk Recorder & Registrar of Voters

Saturday, November 8, 2008

More votes counted; Maring now leads Kessler

The Stanislaus County Clerk Recorder released the results of some 28,000 vote by mail ballots Friday night — results that were not included in the totals listed on Election Night. Patterson's results for mayor and City Council are unchanged, as is the outcome for Measure V. I believe some provisional ballots still need to be counted, but those will surely not overturn these three results. 

Measure S inched just slightly closer to the 66.7 percent it needs to pass, but remained agonizingly short at 65.96 percent.

The real interesting race remains the one for the second and final Del Puerto Health Care District board seat. Challenger Anne Stokman easily won the first open seat. And after trailing for most of the night on Tuesday, incumbent Jeannette Kessler overtook fellow incumbent Ed Maring by 11 votes when the final precincts were counted.

Now, after the final vote by mail ballots have been tabulated, Maring's back on top — at least momentarily.

As of Friday night, Maring leads Kessler 2,391 to 2,378, meaning he gained 24 votes with the counting of the vote by mail ballots. Provisional ballots likely won't change much, but in a race this close, anything can happen. Stay tuned.

For full Stanislaus County election results, click here.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Some news on a Monday morning

A couple of news items worth noting on this Monday morning. Some of you may have seen an article in the Bee this morning about two Patterson men who were shot in Modesto late Saturday night. Our reporter, John Saiz, has tracked down the victims' names.

Stephen Grant, 24, and Maurice Schroder, 22, were the victims of the shooting. Both are African-American. No word yet on their condition, but we're hoping to have that soon. Grant apparently suffered the more significant injuries of the two.

Also, I just got off the phone with George Logan, Patterson's city attorney. There were two motions that were supposed to be heard Thursday at the Fresno Superior Court regarding the city's lawsuit against West Park, but Logan says both were continued to Nov. 6.

One of the motions, brought by Union Pacific Railroad, claims that because Union Pacific has not been involved in any negotiations with Stanislaus County regarding the short-haul rail needed for the West Park project, it should not be included in the lawsuit. Logan says the county is on record with the California Transportation Commission saying that it is, in fact, in negotiations with Union Pacific. Then again, the CTC is still waiting for an agreement between the county and the railroad company. That could mean there really aren't any negotiations going on or they're just really not going well.

The other motion — the biggie — is the one brought by PCCP West Park and Stanislaus County that is seeking to have the case dismissed. That one had already been continued prior to Thursday, but Judge Tyler Tharpe decided to push both of them back and handle them both in one hearing on Nov. 6.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

SOLD! Diablo Grande deal finally done

It only took seven months in bankruptcy court and five days past the expected sale date, but the Diablo Grande deal is finally done. World International LLC has acquired the property, according to a press release from Laurus Corporation. Here's a brief article I just wrote for the Web (it won't appear in Wednesday's Irrigator because the announcement came after our deadline). I'll have much more in Saturday's paper.

In case you're curious (and judging by the number of e-mails I've received over the past two days, many of you are), I've pasted below the full, unedited text of the press release put out by Laurus, a real estate development company that served as World's negotiator throughout the purchase of Diablo Grande.

So, Diablo residents, how do you feel about all this? Are you optimistic that some of this stuff might really get done this time, or will you treat these all like empty promises until they actually come true?

Laurus Corporation Negotiates Acquisition of Diablo Grande to World International

Los Angeles, CA – October 7, 2008 – Laurus Corporation (“Laurus”) is pleased to announce that it has successfully negotiated the acquisition of the master planned development known as Diablo Grande to World International, LLC (“World”).

Located in California’s growing Central Valley, Diablo Grande is a residential and resort golf community of approximately 30,000 acres. The historic ranch's location is 80 miles east of San Francisco and 25 miles west of Modesto, and is approximately one and one-half times the size of Manhattan.

The current development plan encompasses the entire acreage with Phase I development already well underway with 2,100 lots, subdivisions, and basic infrastructure which includes access roads, water treatment plant and other basic services (sewage, electricity, etc.) as well as two tournament-caliber golf courses designed by Denis Griffiths and Jack Nicklaus/Gene Sarazen. Nearly 1,000 lots have already sold with several hundred residences already built.  "I am pleased that World International, LLC is purchasing the property," said Donald  Panoz, Diablo Grande's founder.  "I know that the Principals will move forward to make the development a success and will follow through on our vision that started 20 years ago - to make this the best development in California."

World International LLC was formed as an investment vehicle to acquire and develop the property. The partners behind World have over 60 years of real estate development experience through a variety of entities and corporations, and their portfolio of holdings includes resorts, office buildings, shopping centers, and residential developments.

New ownership’s plan is to rename the development - giving the property a fresh start, seeking inspiration from the surrounding beauty and its Californian heritage. The vision for the continued development is a resort-style life where casual elegance, with a focus on wellness, is emphasized. A place where nature and open space artfully combine to create the ultimate in luxury living.

Anchored by a 5-star, amenity driven resort, spa and convention center, the low-density community will have Spanish-colonial villas, townhouses, and single family residences gently placed in large lots within a tranquil secluded atmosphere, equestrian center, bike trails and its own vineyard. A new country club will be added to enhance the golf course, and an additional Residence Club membership will be offered by the resort to enable homeowners to benefit from the countless outdoor activities available. A specialty Spanish-style low-rise shopping village with a grocery store, dining alternatives, banking services, café and office suites will serve the community.

World International, in a joint effort with Laurus Corporation, will be developing the property as soon as a master plan is complete and the various development phases revised. The developers hope to reach out to the existing community, City and County to work in tandem, taking in their comments and ideas. Additionally, the Company plans to actively explore joint ventures and strategic alliances with recognized home developers and other parties that fit the strategic plan for the property in order to successfully achieve the goals laid out for the new Diablo Grande.

Laurus Corporation is a boutique style domestic and international real estate development company that specializes in full service luxury hotels and resorts, master plan communities, mixed-use properties and multifamily. The Company coordinates activities, converting ideas from paper into real property. It creates, manages and orchestrates key partnerships while assembling the process of development from beginning to end.

Friday, October 3, 2008

No Diablo Grande sale yet

I'm still pretty sure there's nothing to worry about, but Diablo Grande's sale still hasn't closed and probably won't until Monday.

The secretary for Dwain Sanders, Diablo Grande's vice president of development, said this morning she was still doing paperwork for the sale and that it would happen late this afternoon at the earliest. Craig Stewart, Diablo Grande's real estate agent for the sale, indicated it would likely be Monday. I'll have a full story in Saturday's paper, though if news breaks in the next hour that the sale closed, that would not be reflected in Saturday's story.

Let the waiting continue ...

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Diablo Grande sale might not close today

Oct. 2 has been the date circled on the calendars of most Diablo Grande residents and followers for the last three weeks or so as the day Diablo Grande's sale to World International was expected to close.

The closing of the sale was put off in part because World International needed time to complete a study of the water situation (the results of which did not cause the buyer to back out). But it could only be put off for so long, because the bankrupt golf resort and housing development only had enough money to continue operating through that date — and, of course, the money Diablo Grande is now operating with now came via what are called debtor-in-possession loans. Hopefully a little of that money is still in the bank.

Because here we are, just past midday on the day we've all been waiting for, and so far, there's no sale. And while there might not be a sale today, it really, truly sounds like there's nothing to worry about. The last major hurdle facing this sale was cleared Wednesday at a hearing in Modesto, and at this point, I'm told, all that's left is the paperwork.

Craig Stewart, a real estate agent with Marcus & Millichap's San Diego office, is handling the Diablo Grande sale. I spoke with him about an hour ago, and he said his understanding is that the sale will close Friday. He said all that's left is to cross some t's, dot some i's — and, of course, get some money from World International.

"We have (a non-refundable $500,000 deposit), but the buyer could always decide to forfeit that money and walk away," Stewart said. "Until the money is deposited in the escrow account, it's not a done deal."

More to come (but maybe not till tomorrow).

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Diablo Grande clears final(?) hurdle

By all accounts, Diablo Grande today cleared the final hurdle in its sale to World International LLC. At a hearing at the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Modesto, Judge Robert S. Bardwil offered no opposition (nor did any of the parties involved) to a motion brought by Diablo Grande to amend the purchase agreement to include the transfer to the Western Hills Water District rights and equipment for groundwater pumping from a piece of land south of Patterson that is being excluded from the sale. For a more detailed description of the changes to the agreement, read my article from today's paper.

With that settled, it appears everything is on track for the sale to close Thursday. The ever-elusive Dwain Sanders, Diablo Grande's vice president of development, said as much following today's hearing. Sanders declined to comment on the sale itself, saying the buyer had requested he not speak to the media until the sale closes, but he did say a press release should be distributed once the sale closes. Hopefully I'll be able to get a comment from him them.

It remains to be seen what World International plans to do with Diablo Grande, but its history suggests it will continue with some version of the original plans for a resort hotel. The few residents I've spoken to about this seem to be optimistic. I am curious how other residents view this sale. Is this cause for celebration? Or are you in wait-and-see mode? Feel free to leave comments below.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Don't quote me on this, but ...

I'm not going to say that Diablo Grande's sale to World International is going to close as scheduled on Thursday. Just not gonna go there. You can't make me.

As I've said before on this blog, I've given up trying to predict what's going to happen in this case. But I will say this: Right now, at this moment, I don't know of any reason why it won't.

That doesn't mean it will. I just means what I said: I don't have any information to the contrary yet.

I do know, for sure, that World International did not back out of the deal by Friday's deadline. That means the company didn't find anything in its engineering study on Diablo Grande's water to scare it away, which at least says something for its fortitude. World International had until Friday to back out if it found something it didn't like, and it didn't.

There is, though, a hearing scheduled for Wednesday morning that appears, to me, to be a formality — but I've been wrong on these things before. At the hearing, the bankruptcy judge will decide whether to allow language to be added to the purchase agreement specifying that the rights to groundwater in the Marshall-Davis parcel (as well as a water pump and well there) should be transferred to the Western Hills Water District. This apparently was written into the initial purchase agreement, but it was mistakenly removed when it was decided the Marshall-Davis parcel would not be included in the sale.

This will all be explained better in Wednesday's article. I'm not sure it's a big enough deal to be worth explaining twice, so I won't go into any more detail here. But I'm planning on covering the hearing Wednesday, so hopefully I'll have a clearer idea of what this all means at that time.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Busy day — Lance Armstrong; WS-PACE legal action

A couple of pretty big news stories came out today. The first, already on our site, is that cycling legend Lance Armstrong will be competing in the Amgen Tour of California when it rolls through Patterson for the second consecutive year in Februrary.

We figure Armstrong, who is coming out of retirement after having won seven Tour de France races and beaten cancer, has to be one of the biggest stars to ever come to Patterson (even if he won't actually stop while in town). Our general manager, Carol Scoles, reminds me Patterson was once visited by then-governor Ronald Regan and then-presidential candidate Richard Nixon way back when — really? can you imagine Barack Obama stopping by one of these days? me neither — but I'd argue that in terms of a person's global celebrity at the time of their visit, this might top those. I'm sure there are others we're forgetting, and I'm sure someone will remind us.

Why do I suspect this might wind up in Fast Talk next week?

Which leads me to our next big story of the day. West Park opposition group has filed a legal challenge (not technically a lawsuit yet, if I understand correctly) against the project, the county and Union Pacific Railroad. If it sounds a lot like the city's lawsuit against West Park, which the Del Puerto Health Care and West Stanislaus Fire Protection districts later joined, well, they are very similar. But I don't think the folks mind. Even if the cases are similar, each represents one more hurdle Gerry Kamilos must leap over in order to get this project off the ground. And that's fine by them.

I asked Kamilos today if he was concerned about the possibility of West Park becoming another Diablo Grande — a massive project (only more massive) bogged down in years of litigation that ultimately stunted its growth and made its success nearly impossible. He's not, of course, just like he wasn't concerned about Lehman Brothers going under last week. And even if he was, he certainly wouldn't tell a lowly newspaper type like me.

You can read more of what Kamilos — as well as president Ron Swift — had to say in my article for Saturday's paper, which should be posted on our site Friday morning.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Oh, what a night

Thanks to everyone who attended our Candidates Night Forum at City Hall last night, including the six candidates themselves. We had a nice turnout and were given more questions than we possibly could have asked.

It was encouraging to see such involvement from the community in this process. The crowd was engaged but well-behaved — a good combination.

For anyone who wasn't able to attend, check out our preview story for information about how to view the two-hour event on public TV or on DVD. Oh, and all those questions that went unanswered? Don't worry. We're going to bring each candidate in and ask them those questions individually. We'll probably film those answers ourselves and post them on our site. And no, they won't be able to see the questions ahead of time.

John Saiz and I are finishing up our stories for Wednesday's paper (his on the City Council candidates, mine on the mayoral candidates), and we'll be posting them on the web site sometime today.

We obviously all have our own opinions of how the candidates performed, but we'd love to hear from you. So to those who attended, what stood out to you? Who did exceptionally well? Who struggled? Who made you laugh? Who made you cry? Let us know — but keep it civil. Thanks.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Council approves new sheriff contract

Here's the highlights from Tuesday's Patterson City Council meeting. I'll have more updates tomorrow and I'll get the full story in Saturday's paper.

Patterson City Council voted 5-0 to keep contracting Stanislaus County Sheriff's Department to provide local law enforcement for the next five years.

The council voted 4-1 to charge new mobile food vendors, like taco trucks, an additional $750 if they want to vend from a fixed location.

The council once again decided to delay any decisions on the San Joaquin Valley Blueprint, a proposal councilors fear will strip local jurisdictions of their power. They'll be reviewing it again in October.

That's just a taste of some of the the activities at Tuesday's meeting. More to follow...

Friday, September 12, 2008

Diablo Grande sale, settlement approved

It looked shaky for a minute there, but after a nearly two-hour hearing, Diablo Grande's sale to World International LLC and settlement with its creditors was approved Friday by Judge Robert S. Bardwil at the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Sacramento.

I'll have a full story on today's hearing posted shortly. The only thing left that could prevent this sale is World International's own engineering study, which I addressed in this story. If we get the study's deadline of Sept. 26 and World International still hasn't backed out, the sale will likely close Oct. 2.

Diablo Grande update

Court is in recess until 11:15 a.m. The judge is still not happy with the settlement. More to come.

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Is today the day for Diablo Grande?

Judge Robert S. Bardwil said at Tuesday's hearing that he was prepared to approve Diablo Grande's sale to World International LLC. But he wanted to wait so he could approve the sale along with a revised settlement between Diablo Grande and its creditors. Those approvals should come during today's hearing, which starts at 10 a.m.

I looked over the revised settlement last night, and it looks pretty solid. The "insiders" are subordinating their claims. The Bank of Scotland is taking slightly less than it was getting in the original settlement. The unsecured creditors are still getting their chunk. I don't see any reason why the judge would not approve the settlement today, but I'm no bankruptcy lawyer. And like I said before — I'm done making predictions about this case. Won't go there.

According to the new sale motion, all objections to the sale have been resolved except for one: an objection from the West Stanislaus Fire Protection District. I'm not sure I've ever even mentioned the fire district's concerns, because at every step, it appeared as though they would be resolved easily. But apparently they still haven't been.

My understanding is that the fire district wants it written into the sale that a permanent fire station must be built in Diablo Grande before the 500th (or is it 501st?) housing permit is issued. On multiple occasions, Diablo Grande's lawyer has said (and the judge has agreed) that it was not necessary to write that into the sale because rules like that automatically transfer with the purchase of the land. Sounds like semantics to me, but again, I'm no expert here. The other aspect of the fire district's objection relates to permanent housing in Diablo Grande for firefighters stationed there. That seems like it might be more of a sticking point, but we'll see.

In a note at the top of the revised sale motion, Diablo Grande's attorney writes "The Debtor intends to seek the Court's guidance with respect to the resolution of (the fire district's) objection." I can't imagine something that seems so simple could derail a sale that is so overwhelmingly complicated, but stranger things have happened.

Stay tuned.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

‘Head west,’ says GPAC

Patterson’s General Plan Advisory Committee recommended Tuesday that hundreds of acres west of Interstate 5 should be brought into the city and developed.

The development of land in the Del Puerto Canyon had been one of the more hotly debated topics as the committee got the ball rolling on revisions to Patterson’s general plan.

The committee has one more meeting scheduled, Oct. 6, before turning the plan over to Patterson Planning Commission and ultimately Patterson City Council, which has the final say when it comes to the plan. So, there will likely be significant changes and plenty of time to let your voice be heard before the plan is finalized.

When complete, the plan will establish what type of local development, if any, should occur and where.

The committee is recommending hundreds of acres along the hills of Del Puerto Canyon be designated for mixed use. Exactly what mixed use will be hasn’t been defined. One of the area’s major landowners, Jeff Arambel, has talked about putting residential and commercial development in the hills.

Property owner and developer influence over GPAC has also been an issue raised during GPAC proceedings. Several large landowners sit on the committee and its chairman, John Ramos, has been instrumental in several large developments in Patterson.

Planning commissioner and candidate for mayor, Luis Molina, in a recent interview went as far as to say Ramos shouldn’t be chairing the committee because of his development background, and cast doubt on the entire general plan process.

Look for expanded coverage in Saturday’s paper.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Diablo Grande full story posted online

I've got to rush back to the office to help get Wednesday's paper out, but here's my story on today's Diablo Grande hearing. It includes just about everything I know about World International (and its apparent ties with the much less secretive Laurus Corporation), so be sure to check that out.

It certainly looks like everything should be approved without incident at Friday's hearing, but I've giving up making predictions about this case. I'll wait and see what happens with the rest of you.

Diablo Grande update III

Sale and settlement hearings continued to Friday. More to come.

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Diablo Grande update II

Diablo Grande is asking for approval of sale but more time to negotiate revised settlement.

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Diablo Grande update

Rumors are the Diablo Grande homeowners association might protest the sale this morning. More to come.

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Diablo Grande should be sold today

First off, is this an unpredictable news town, or what? As I was leaving work Friday evening, I thought Diablo Grande would be the big story of this week. Then we learned about a body found in a car in Del Puerto Canyon under mysterious circumstances. Then a man drove his car into the Center Building. And suddenly this Diablo Grande stuff seems a lot less serious. But I digress ...

It's signed and sealed, and it's going to be delivered less than two hours from now. Diablo Grande and World International, LLC, have both signed an asset purchase agreement — the long awaited document spelling out the details of Diablo Grande's sale. The sale, along with a revised settlement between Diablo Grande and its creditors, should both be approved at today's hearing at 10 a.m. at the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Sacramento (shown again via teleconference in Modesto).

It's probably best not to celebrate just yet, because the sale is still contingent upon a civil engineering study by World International. The study, which not surprisingly focuses on water, must be complete by Sept. 26. After that point, the sale becomes binding and World International can no longer back out.

I would be a little surprised if the study finds anything that would be a deal-breaker for World International, even regarding the troubled state of Diablo Grande's water. The sale negotiations dragged on long enough that the company must have been able to do at least some due dilligence on the water situation. And a breakdown of the study found in court documents includes specific mention of trihalomethanes, which is a good sign that World International at least isn't going into this totally blind.

The question everyone seems to be asking (myself included) is "Who is World International?" I haven't nailed that down completely, but I think I'm getting closer. Whatever information I have, combined with whatever is revealed at today's hearing (probably not much there) will be included in the story I'll post after the hearing.

I will try to send an update to this blog via text message, like I did at the last hearing. That seemed to work OK. So check back here for details throughout the day.

Friday, September 5, 2008

Raw video from Canyon crime scene

I've updated the Del Puerto Canyon story with info from the sheriff's department, confirming that the incident is being investigated as a homicide or possible suicide.

I did shoot some video at the scene. There's not a whole lot to see in the video that you couldn't already see in the photos below, but you can get a little more perspective on how deep the ravine is:

Photos from Canyon crime scene

Being that it's after hours on a Friday night and the rest of our staff is gone for the night, this might be the only way for me to get you photos from the crime scene in Del Puerto Canyon. Click here for the story so far. That story will be updated as we get more information, which might be in the next 10 minutes or might be not until Monday.

There wasn't much media access granted at the scene, but I was able to get a few shots on my cell phone. Here they are:

Thursday, September 4, 2008

City Council rundown, Sept. 2

Here’s a rundown on Tuesday’s Patterson City Council meeting. Expect expanded coverage in Saturday's paper and on the Web site.

Company accused of losing track of $8.3 million in city funds settles suit

The council settled its suit with Precision Inspection, Mayor Becky Campo said Tuesday. The city had been withholding close to a million dollars Precision felt it was owed. The city gave Precision $560,000, Campo said.

Precision had been contracted to run many aspects of the city’s building department until 2004. Around that time, the city discovered a Precision employee had been improperly handling city funds to the tune of more than $8.3 million dollars.

The employee had been hiding checks and cash in her office and home as opposed to making deposits. Following the settlement, the city is out $65,000 total because of the mess, said City Attorney George Logan.

Council fears blueprint will give too much power to state

Organizers of the San Joaquin Valley Blue Print Process said the plan will provide the framework for long-term growth in the Central Valley. Patterson City Council feared it will rob local autonomy and give excessive power to the state.

At Tuesday’s council meeting, two of the men organizing the Stanislaus County portion of the plan asked the council to support their model for growth. Council members took the opportunity to air their worries.

“Local control and decision making may be slipping away,” said Councilwoman Annette Smith.

The council put off making any decision and requested city staff study the blue print and present a report at the September 16 meeting.

When the city tightens belt, apricots get squeezed

Organizers with Patterson’s Apricot Fiesta got shot down in their request for $5,000 from the council Tuesday.

Councilors said a tight budget stopped them from providing $5,000 to help promote Patterson's largest party. Cleve Morris, Patterson’s city manager, said the city is still committed to helping with the Fiesta, but diminishing income and increased expense limit what the city will be able to do this year.

The council decided to organize a meeting between city staff and fiesta board members to start sorting out exactly how the city will participate in this year’s Fiesta.

Commissions expand

The council voted 4-0 to expand three of its advisory committees even though staff said it would put additional burdens on city resources. The council decided to expand the beautification committee, the economic strategic committee and senior center board from five members each to seven members each. The move went against the recommendation of Morris and Adrienne Chaney, Patterson’s director of parks and recreation.

Scavenging recycling to be illegal

The council got the ball rolling on making it illegal to go through other people’s recycling bins. As of now, there’s no rule on the book preventing someone from taking bottles and cans out of bins once a resident wheels it to the curb. The council decided to change that with a 4-0 vote Tuesday. The new law has several more bureaucratic hurdles, but in all likely hood will be on the books in the coming months.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Patterson teens arrested for Newman muggings

Newman police released some interesting information today about muggings Sunday night and Monday morning. The press releases came too late for us to get anything in Wednesday's paper so be sure to check the story out on the website.

Right now, it isn’t clear which gang police believe the muggers are associated with. Patterson’s gang detective won’t be around until tomorrow, and the other sources I talked to in Patterson Police Service weren’t 100 percent certain. Some of the confusion is because police believe the Patterson gang the Runners might have splintered or reorganized. I’ll keep updating the website as I get more information.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Diablo Grande gets another continuance

7:55 p.m. update: Sorry for the delay. Here's my article on the Diablo Grande hearing for Saturday's paper.

Just got back from the teleconference in Modesto. Don't have much time, as I need to get a full story written for Saturday's paper, but here's a quick rundown from today's nearly two-hour hearing:

Diablo Grande has a buyer, World International LLC — a resort developer with projects in places like Cancun and Mexico City — that is willing to pay $20 million plus the $1.5 million cure amount to assume contracts with the Western Hills Water District and others. They still need a few days to finalize an asset purchase agreement and a couple of weeks for World International to complete an engineering study of the project, but both sides expressed confidence that all matters could be worked out.

Because the sale price is below the $26 million the proposed settlement was contingent upon, more money is needed. Some of that money is going to come from "insiders" — companies like Oak Flat Golf and Isom Ranch Winery and Vineyards that have helped to fund and operate Diablo Grande and who owe Diablo Grande a total of more than $11 million. The claims against these insiders are being released in the settlement, a fact judge Robert S. Bardwil (not Baldwil, as I called him in a previous post) expressed great concern over.

Representatives from every side of this thing — including lawyers for Diablo Grande, developer Donald Panoz (representing the "insiders"), the Bank of Scotland, the committee of unsecured creditors and the proposed buyer — laid out their reasons for accepting the settlement and the releases given to these insiders and urged Bardwil to consider the possible damage that could be caused if the sale and settlement are not approved.

Bardwil granted a continuance of both the sale and settlement motions to Sept. 9 at 10 a.m., again at the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Sacramento. And it sounded as though the pleadings from all sides might have convinced him that both can likely be approved.

That doesn't mean the sale will close, but it's something.

Diablo Grande is very close to running out of money, by the way. It will receive an additional $200,000 from the Bank of Scotland once an asset purchase agreement is signed in order to continue operating while the sale is closed, but that won't cover expenses for the time during which World International will be conducting its engineering study. Diablo Grande attorney Michael Ahrens said he's working with the insiders to obtain the roughly $900,000 needed to continue operating through the end of September.

This will probably be the last you hear from me until the story for Saturday's paper is posted on the Web site (which should be some time today).

Diablo Grande hearing update

Diablo Grande says it has an offer of $20 million but needs more time to close sale. More to come.

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Diablo Grande looks to move forward

8 a.m. update: As I said in an earlier post, I'm going to try and send an update to this blog via text message from my cell phone as news breaks during the hearing. I'm not making any promises, but we'll give it a shot.

Unfortunately a car accident (my own, not one I had to cover) derailed my day yesterday, so I was unable to check with Diablo Grande attorney Michael Ahrens about his plans for today's bankruptcy hearing. But I just checked for new court documents online — last time, the motion for continuance was filed the day before the hearing — and there wasn't anything of that sort.

There is, though, a supplemental pleading that was filed Monday responding to judge Robert S. Baldwil's concerns about the sale and the settlement. Baldwil said at last Tuesday's hearing that it would be in Diablo Grande's best interest if its officials did not try to convince him that everything should be approved as-is, but rather they should offer more disclosures about the settlement itself.

It doesn't appear they've taken his advice.

If the memorandum filed Monday is any indication, Ahrens intends to argue that the sale and settlement should be approved as-is, stating that the precedent Baldwil cited is not as valid as the precedent Diablo Grande is citing. That sounds dangerous to me. We'll see how Baldwil responds this morning.

On the matter of the sale itself — without which all of this settlement talk becomes moot — it appears that as of Monday, Diablo Grande was "in the final stages of discussions with certain bidders" and that "those discussions may result in further adjustments to the provisions of the" settlement. That also could be problematic. Was there enough time for the settlement to be adjusted and for all of those involved in the settlement to give their OK? If Baldwil was resistent to the first settlement, will he be any more likely to approve a lesser one?

My mostly uneducated guess — based on nothing but pure speculation — is that Diablo Grande will come forth with a buyer, and either a) the sale won't be approved by the judge, or b) the revised settlement will be contested by one or more creditors. Regardless, it seems unlikely impossible that this will all be over today.

There should be plenty more drama than there was last week, though.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Campaigning continues to evolve

In case you haven't noticed, there's quite a discussion going on in the comments section of John Saiz's Aug. 20 article introducing Patterson's candidates for mayor and City Council. Not much of a surprise there, given the heat that's always generated by issues like West Park and overall growth.

What is somewhat surprising, though, is that one of those candidates has jumped into the conversation. City Council hopeful and political newcomer Jeff Realini — one of four battling for two seats — began by offering his opinions on certain aspects of the discussion but today defended himself when other commenters went more or less on the attack.

Of course, we're assuming it's really Realini and not some 19-year-old in his mother's basement posing as Realini. Always a good idea to take supposed Internet identities with a healthy dose of skepticism. But this one passes the smell test, for me at least.

The conversation has been mostly civil and really rather interesting. I won't say I necessarily agree or disagree with any of Realini's points, but you have to give the guy credit for one thing: Any candidate willing to take on anonymous Internet posters on their own playing field gets bonus points for courage.

Score one for accessibility.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Welcome to PI Connect

Well, I was all set to write a nice, long introductory post here, but I'm nearing the end of one very long day. Between preparing Wednesday's paper, sifting through video of Monday's General Plan Advisory Committee Meeting (see the final product here), packaging the first Street Beat of our new digital era, editing a highlights package from Tuesday's Patterson High football practice and trying to get started on stories for Saturday's paper, I simply ran out of time and gas.

Then again, after plowing through my column about all the changes we're unveiling on Wednesday, I'm sure you've just about heard enough from me as it is.

So I'll keep this short. What you're looking at is the PI Connect blog, a place for discussion of Patterson's most contentious issues as well as breaking news and who knows what else. Reporter John Saiz, who covers just about every meeting in town and does so with the greatest of ease, will bring his knowledge and insight to this blog. I will merely attempt to look like I'm keeping up.

You also have a role in all this. You'd be surprised how much we get out of reading the comments on some of our articles, and I'm not just referring to the entertainment value of them. A lot of you obviously care very deeply about this town and where it's headed, and I hope many of you will find your way to this blog and use it as another outlet for your thoughts and emotions. We're here to serve you, and the more you tell us what you're interested and what you want to see, the better we can accomplish that goal.

If I can offer one piece of advice, it would be to come back soon (and often). John tells me he's already planning to elaborate on Monday's GPAC meeting in a blog post on Wednesday. And I'm going to get really ambitious on Thursday and try to post to this blog via a text message from my cell phone — as far as I can tell, that's the only way I'll be able to give you all an update on Diablo Grande's much-anticipated bankruptcy hearing before I leave the courtroom. The hearing starts at 10 a.m., and I'm hoping to have at least a one-liner announcing a sale another continuance as soon as it's been approved.

That's all I've got for tonight. See you soon.