COARSEGOLD – District 5 Supervisor Tom Wheeler delivered some “great news about the Great Wall of Coarsegold” Thursday night at a Town Hall meeting at the Community Center.
Almost exactly one year to the day since County officials told those gathered in the same hall that they were hopeful work would start soon on the crumbling structure, the legal issues have been resolved and the demolition will begin.
“Tonight I can report that the attorney for the Grahams has successfully negotiated the access agreement with the owners of the adjacent properties,” said Wheeler. “The agreement was signed last night, and I was informed by the attorney for the Grahams that they are ready to roll.”
Michael and Cynthia Graham are the previous owners and lien holders on the property, who now have the legal authority to remove the wall. Terry and Theresa Travis, who started building the wall in 2003, filed for bankruptcy in 2011 and no longer have the legal right to go onto the property or operate the business, 2T’s Mini Storage, even though they are still the titled owners.
Though the Grahams don’t own the property, they are willing to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to fix this problem, but have been prevented from doing so as the legal wranglings dragged on for years.
After the Oct 25, 2012 meeting, where everyone was ready to move forward on the project, the County and the Grahams received a faxed letter from trustee Richard Kipperman informing them that it would be illegal for anyone to lift a shovel-full of dirt on the property until the bankruptcy court in San Diego released it. That brought everything to a screeching halt – until now.
So how did things devolve into such a complicated situation?
In 2003, Terry and Theresa Travis, along with minority partners Bashar and Atour Jarbos, began building the wall that is now crumbling at the intersection of Highway 41 and Road 415 in Coarsegold. They built a facility known as 2T’s Mini Storage, which opened in late 2006, at the top of the hill.
Shortly after completion of the wall, issues arose with the integrity of the three-tiered structure, as blocks began falling out near the bottom. The County issued a notice of revocation of occupancy for the office building at the facility in November 2007, due to sewage leaks. The Travises installed leach lines, correcting that problem, but the wall continued to deteriorate over the ensuing years.
Residents have been living with the dangerous eyesore for years, wondering when it would come crashing down onto Highway 41.
Throughout the various stages of its disintegration, residents and travelers along the highway have been greeted with the sight of bulging terraces, crumbling stone, and the latest – a big white tarp and a chain link fence.
In 2006, Casey and Carolyn Root, owners of Wild Pete’s Publishing whose land is adjacent, filed suit alleging that the base of the wall encroached onto their property.
Then in 2008, the County filed suit citing the problems with the wall and alleging that the owners had not taken adequate steps to address the issue. The owners then filed a cross-complaint stating that the County was at fault because they had approved the project.
“These are all private people.” said Assistant County Counsel Robert Gabriele at last year’s Town Hall meeting. “This is private property. The only way the County gets involved is to look at what they’ve proposed, and make sure it meets state and local standards. It is not the job of the County to propose anything. We have to rely on licensed and certified contractors and engineers to know what will work and what won’t.”
In March of 2011, Gabriele went to the Madera County Superior Court to ask for, and was granted, an order that allowed the County onto the property, and required Travis to put up something to protect against falling debris going into Highway 41. That resulted in a cyclone fence, a big tarp, and orange highway protection barriers. The tarp was to help keep rainwater from saturating the soil behind the wall, and the fence keeps chunks of the wall from rolling out into the roadway.
“Within three or four months of that, the Travises went into bankruptcy,” said Gabriele. And then the mess got even messier as all the interested parties began wrestling with the problem of how to fix this before something catastrophic happened, and the tons of dirt held back by the deteriorating structure ended up in the middle of Highway 41.
In March of this year, the San Diego court discharged the Travises from bankruptcy court and expressly authorized the Grahams to take over operation of the property. Since that date there has been legal authority to move dirt and fix the problem, but nothing could be done unless and until access onto the adjacent properties, including agreed-upon compensation, was worked out. That finally happened this past week.
The contractors will now need to present their written plans to the County as to how they intend to proceed with the demolition of the wall and the rehabilitation of the property.
“The first order of business is to pull the demolition permit,” Gabriele told SNO. “Also, there is authority for the County, in certain circumstances, to waive fees for a particular permit, and the Resource Management Agency director has expressed his support to do that. The County is committed to working with the Grahams to help as much as possible to expedite this process.”