A controversial land case has been extended 60 more days following a hearing on Monday.
The case involving JDC Land Company and its owner, Jerry Cox, took place in Mariposa County Superior Court with a large gallery in attendance.
The high-profile matter involves the 430-plus acre property being put into receivership by a court order last year. That receivership was based on more than 100 code violations cited by Mariposa County.
Since that time, the matter has become one of high public interest and even involved a little over a dozen protesters marching with various signs before Monday’s hearing at the Courthouse in Mariposa.
The purpose of the hearing was supposed to be for the court to consider appropriating nearly $100,000 for the receiver to proceed. However, in the end, Judge Dana Walton alloted a much smaller amount of funds for the receiver and further ordered that professional bids be presented to the court in 60 days.
Attorney Imran Khaliq, representing Cox, was the first to speak at the hearing and gave a summary of where he believes the matter stands.
“The first priority, you said, was to get Mr. Cox back into his home,” said Khaliq to the judge.
According to Khaliq, the receiver, Mark Adams, has had sufficient time to get proper bids for what he claims is work that has to be done on the property in order to remedy the violations cited by the County.
That, he said, has not happened.
“We have not seen the plans,” said Khaliq.
The property, known as Bison Creek Ranch, has several buildings, including a main residence and a guest house. There are also outbuildings, a greenhouse and more.
“That is a pristine piece of land,” Khaliq told the court, saying he was recently able to go to the property for the first time.
Khaliq said one of the main reasons for the receivership is the County contended Cox was “running an illegal overnight business.”
At one point, Bison Creek Ranch did offer overnight accommodations for visitors. However, that has since stopped, most notably in the past several months after the receiver was appointed to oversee the property and it was seized by the receiver.
Khaliq said Cox was “willing to stipulate today” that he would no longer conduct business on the property.
The attorney also told the court that, unlike the majority of receivership cases in the state, “this isn’t a rat-infested property. This is 430 acres of pristine land.”
In many receivership cases in California, receivers are appointed to take over properties like hotels or housing developments where living conditions are so poor the courts deem it necessary to have an outside receiver take over management. In those cases, there is generally a steady stream of income from the people who continue to live at the properties.
In the motion filed by the receiver, Adams was asking the court to order Cox to pay up to $300,000 within 30 days or the property would be subject to sale on the open market.
But Adams said selling the property was “not the purpose” of the hearing and that it was to “figure out how to get the work done.”
He did say Cox has “obeyed the rules” set down by the court and it is “not our perception he’s sneaking onto the property.”
Adams then turned to what he said have been “tirades” on social media against his company and added that is why he can’t get estimates from contractors.
To that point, Khaliq said Cox doesn’t even know “who the contractors are” which Adams cites in his estimates for either repairing the property or doing demolition.
And though Adams said the purpose of the hearing was not to ask for a sale of the property, he then told the court he felt Cox should have to “put $200,000 to $300,000” to “pay for the costs” of either rehabilitation or demolition.
“If he can’t pay the costs, then there is no way to remediate the property,” said Adams.
He further said if Cox “can’t comply” then the court should authorize Adams to “list the property for an appropriate transaction.”
Khaliq countered by saying if Adams has bids, those should be made public, something Adams said he cannot do.
Adams said he met with three contractors, two of them local, and they are “not willing” to have their names revealed “in a public setting.”
He cited the fear of being attacked on social media as the reason.
Attorney Nate Silver, the outside counsel hired by Mariposa County in the case, said it was his position the “County has been seeking compliance with this property for about a decade.”
He added the County has “waited long enough for compliance.”
Khaliq said for the receiver to come up with a price range of $200,000 to $300,000 was not appropriate because “we don’t even know who their contractors are.”
Judge Walton said he had “no concerns” about social media comments as long as people were not threatened.
“If a person doesn’t want to use their name in a bid, they can’t bid,” said the judge.
Khaliq pointed out to the court they had retained an expert from Fresno who looked at the property but has not had enough time to come up with solid estimates.
He said Adams has had six months to get the proper estimates and has failed to do so.
“We haven’t had the luxury of six months to find a contractor,” said Khaliq.
Khaliq felt it would be a “fair solution for both sides to submit bids.”
“I don’t frankly think he’s going to have money,” said Adams, questioning if Cox would be able to fund getting bids. “The core issue is whether there is a source of money.”
The judge said he thought it “only fair for everyone involved to know the costs.”
“We want to make sure there is transparency in the process,” said Khaliq.
Adams said he has “extensively tried” to find contractors.
“I don’t think there is a qualified general contractor who would bid on this project,” said Adams.
At one point, Judge Walton suggested a “phone book” for Adams to locate contractors to give bids.
“I’m open to talking,” said Adams.
Adams further added he would be “surprised” if “somebody would be willing and could (then) get trashed on social media.”
Khaliq said they needed to “see the basis” for the bids, referring to the original violations cited by the County. Those records have been sealed by court order, though why that happened has not been made clear.
The judge said any contractors brought on board by either Cox or the receiver would have to work with the appropriate County officials, namely in the building and planning departments, to review the violations cited.
Khaliq also pointed out the circumstances surrounding the property have changed, saying it is no longer used to have overnight guests or visitors in general.
The judge said those circumstances should be worked out between contractors and the County officials.
Walton also said he wanted it to move quickly.
“I want to bring this matter to a conclusion as quickly as possible,” said the judge.
It was also pointed out by Silver, the County’s attorney, the case has “already been litigated” and the court found in favor of the County and that is why the receiver is in place.
The judge agreed he didn’t want the case to be “re-litigated” but did say both sides have to be involved in dealing with contractors.
In the end, Walton ordered that bids be obtained by both parties, though he said if one can’t get a bid the court will have to take that into consideration. He further ordered that both sides “meet and confer” during the 60-day time period granted by the court.
The judge did allow an additional $20,000 to be spent by the receiver over that time period. Most of that likely will be spent on security, though the judge did ask Adams to look at ways to keep costs reduced.
Walton said if bids cannot be obtained, he would have little choice but to order either demolition of the property or to allow it to be sold.
“I would like to avoid either of those two options,” said the judge.
The judge then set the next hearing for 2 p.m., Monday, March 19 in Mariposa County Superior Court.
Greg Little is Editor of the Mariposa Gazette and can be reached at email@example.com.