Napa Valley Updates

Thursday, November 30, 2006

This is from this week's St. Helena Star.
It concerns the trial regarding Peter Mennen and a neighbor. She was going to give him 5 acres (or so) to be "forever wild" --or a permenant wildlife santuary. He reneged and wanted the "flexablity" to sell the land for developement if he need the cash.
Part of her defense is a letter he wrote to all the teachers saying that it would be some sort of wildlife habitat. Under oath, he has now stated that letter was a lie.
If the letter he wrote to all our teachers was (in his words) a "flat out lie", why should this town listen to him when he writes letters regarding the flood control project, Meily Park, stream set backs, etc. This trial is perfect. Mr. Mennen wants "the flexibility" to sell his property to a developer, if "An act of God" should force him to do so. Isn't that what we all want?

Why then does he lobby for restrictions on others' land? However the trial comes out, the hypocracy of the Radical Environmentalists is open for all to see. Please take heed. This is a hoot!

Attorneys file closing briefs in Sulphur Creek land dispute
By Jesse Duarte
Thursday, November 30, 2006 8:42 AM PST Attorneys for Susan Card and the Mennen Environmental Foundation filed closing briefs last week in the case that could end six years of legal wrangling over six acres of land along Sulphur Creek.

Card, the owner of eight acres along the creek, learned in 1999 that Laryl and Jeryl Smith, the owners of Harold Smith and Sons, were planning to sell some of their nearby land. Worried that the untouched property could be developed, she proposed that the Foundation, owned by her neighbor and friend Peter Mennen, buy the Smiths’ land.

In return, Card would donate or provide a conservation easement over a portion of her land. She hoped the combined lands would become a wildlife refuge, with native vegetation restored and fish spawning encouraged.

Wanted use restrictions The Foundation bought the 23 acres from the Smiths, and Card agreed in writing to hand over her land. Card’s attorneys, Scott Sommer and Julie Macedo, argued that when Card signed the pledge agreement, she believed the property would be used for the restoration of Sulphur Creek, and would have strict land use restrictions barring public access and development.

Instead, Card’s attorneys said, the Foundation wished to reserve the right to sell the land, possibly to a developer. When Card refused to hand over the six acres in question, the Foundation sued her.

Mennen’s attorney, Richard Raines, wrote in his closing brief that Card knew when she signed the pledge agreement that it contained no land use restrictions. Raines pointed out that Card’s attorney at the time, William Kuhns, advised her to sign the agreement, telling her “the benefits outweigh the negatives.”

Bad faith alleged

In their closing brief, Card’s attorneys argued that Mennen acted in bad faith, repeatedly representing to Card and others that the property would have strict land use restrictions.

In a March 29, 2001, St. Helena Star article titled “A River Runs Through It,” and a letter to several St. Helena Elementary School teachers, Mennen said the land would be used for plant and wildlife restoration.

But in court, Mennen testified that his claims to the teachers regarding land use restrictions constituted “a flat lie” intended to stop the teachers from bothering him. When Card wrote to him to express her approval of the project as he had described it to the teachers, he never corrected her.

Raines argued that the various discussions regarding the plans for the property are not binding, and that the pledge agreement’s lack of stated restrictions shows that Card knew the Foundation would not be restricted in its use of the land.

Reserve right to sell

During the six-day trial, Mennen and his former attorney, Greg Colvin, testified that while the Foundation had every intention of going through with the restoration project, it wanted to reserve the right to sell the land if acts of God made such efforts impossible or pointless. It was highly unlikely that the Foundation’s board would approve selling the land to a developer, Mennen testified.

In their closing brief, Card’s attorneys said the agreement was unenforceable because it referenced “terms and conditions” that were to be worked out later, and was thus legally incomplete. They claimed that several issues were left unresolved by the original agreement, including the terms of an easement for Card to access her house and the question of what restrictions would be placed on the land.

Raines argued that even if the agreement left some questions unanswered, Card is still legally obligated to abide by it. He cast doubt on Card’s credibility, and disputed her claim that the donation’s tax deduction was not of great importance to her.

Urges handover of land

He urged the court to require Card to hand over the land either through a donation or a conservation easement. In return, he said Card’s view would be protected, she would get a substantial tax deduction, and the knowledge that the land would be used for the ecological and environmental education of St. Helena citizens and children.

“Even the fish will smile,” wrote Raines.

Judge Raymond Guadagni may call a final hearing tomorrow before making a decision.