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.