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Tuesday, November 25, 2008

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Yet Another Bankruptcy for Placer County's Bickford Ranch Project


November 2008

California Oak Report, http://www.californiaoaks.org/


Sign of the Times
Reprinted below is a recent Sacramento Bee article regarding the latest tribulations of the infamous Bickford Ranch project, Placer County. Bickford’s financial troubles are currently shared by developers and developments statewide. The price of raw land is plummeting as developers dump their speculative holdings at fire sale prices to gain expiring tax write-offs. Many approved developments are seeking five to ten-year extensions for development agreements.

In 2002 and 2004 California Oak Foundation, Sierra Club and Audubon Society joined forces in bringing successful legal actions against Bickford, resulting in a $6.05 million mitigation payment to the California Wildlife Foundation (CWF) for the purchase of Placer County oak woodlands.

Bickford Ranch was a seminal battleground in the ongoing effort to achieve for Sierra Nevada oak woodlands the ecological deference this natural resource has always deserved. In retrospect, the go-go development period that Bickford spent engaged in legal proceedings turned out to be the difference between project success and failure:

Bickford Ranch Crashes in Bankruptcy Court

http://www.sacbee.com/142/story/1380689.html

In a vivid example of the Wall Street financial crisis hitting home, development plans for a Placer County golf course community called Bickford Ranch crashed Friday in federal bankruptcy court. Bickford Ranch, a 1,942-acre residential project in the Sierra foothills between Penryn and Lincoln, collapsed after its sole source of cash – Wall Street investment bank Lehman Brothers – imploded in September, developers said.

The community, long controversial for its potential impact on its rural foothills setting, was a partnership between Lehman Brothers and Irvine land development giant SunCal Companies. SunCal spokesman David Soyka said Friday that without Lehman's money, SunCal Bickford Ranch LLC can't finish infrastructure work or even maintain the property.

The project, initiated by Miami-based Lennar Communities, won county approval in 2001. But it was stalled for years by lawsuits. Environmental groups argued that the location on pastureland and ridges violated the county general plan, which called for preserving oak woodlands.

In 2004, a Placer Superior Court judge agreed. Later that year, the developers resubmitted their plans. Then environmentalists sued again. Eventually, the SunCal partnership, which bought the property in 2005, paid $6 million to preserve oak woodlands elsewhere in Placer County to settle the lawsuit. Though developers initially expected the first residents would move in 2006, neither the golf course nor any homes have been built.

Note: To date, more than 2,000 acres have been saved by Placer Land Trust working with CWF, the United Auburn Indian Community, and Placer County.

SunCal attorneys said the project will go forward eventually. The Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing, they said, helps find a new investor. Bickford Ranch, however, was the development firm's fourth related bankruptcy filing in California. All involved partnerships with Lehman Brothers, which armed SunCal with $2.2 billion to develop properties throughout California and Nevada.

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