Calaveras Enterprise

News never stops in the Mother Lode




These are newsy times, as always. But some long-running Calaveras County news stories are finally coming to a head, among them the fate of The Ridge at Trinitas.

Trinitas is an 18-hole commercial golf course on 280 rolling acres in Wallace that Michael and Michelle Nemee began to develop in 2001. They got loans, hired professionals to help build the course, sold pricey memberships, and later scheduled tournaments, including hosting a Calaveras County Chamber of Com-merce fundraiser for each of the past two years.

The Nemees filed bankruptcy in 2009 after twice losing votes before the Board of Supervisors that would have made the course legal. They then filed lawsuits against the county, hoping to reverse the supervisors’ decisions.

One of those lawsuits argued that a 2005 ordinance permits golf courses on agriculturally zoned land. After a three-day trial in October, the federal court judge hearing it rejected the Nemees’ arguments and upheld the county’s position that the golf course is illegal. He also ruled golfing there must stop and the Nemees must pay the county’s legal costs as well as the costs to abate the “nuisance” that the Nemees created. Barring an appeal, golfing will cease Jan. 27, if not sooner.

The ruling was a stunning victory for Calaveras County. There are people who should feel vindicated by it, and there are at least as many people who should hang their heads in shame.

Among the vindicated, of course, are Calaveras County Supervisors Tom Tryon, Merita Callaway and Steve Wilensky, who have been vilified by some since their 2009 votes to reject the golf course.

Their critics sought to paint them as anti-business, but the three public servants actually sent a message that good government, fairness, and the rule of law will prevail here. Supervisor Gary Tofanelli, who did not share his colleagues’ views, nevertheless demonstrated his integrity when he resigned from the Chamber of Commerce board of directors after it chose to make a political statement and hold its first tournament at Trinitas in 2010 in defiance of the supervisors’ decision.

Supervisors get little thanks for the good they do, but are often maligned for it. It’s a risk they subject themselves to when they accept public office. But for that reason it’s important for people to be reminded that when public officials stand up for principle in the face of unpleasant personal criticism, they act in our best interests. That deserves our gratitude.

Vindicated, too, was Stephanie Moreno, former head of the short-lived Calaveras County Community Develop-ment Department, and a whole host of other county employees whose words and actions were twisted to fit the Nemees’ development scheme. Many of them, like Moreno, suffered malicious recriminations be-cause of false statements attributed to them.

The judge wrote at length that he didn’t buy the Nemees’ assertions that county officials tacitly encouraged the project and that Moreno had supported it in a private 2006 meeting she and Nemee had with bankers. The judge said Moreno had done no such thing and it was clear at the time of that meeting that both the bank and the Nemees knew the course was illegal and that only the Board of Supervisors could change that status.

“It is also clear that the Plaintiffs proceeded with the development of The Property knowing that it did not meet the then existing zoning for The Property,” the judge wrote. “There was no reliance on any representations of anyone at the County that the construction of an 18-hole commercial golf course was legal. From the evidence presented to the court, the Plaintiffs intentionally proceeded with building the golf course banking on obtaining an after-the-fact land use change by the Board of Supervisors.”

The judge’s ruling signals the end of Trinitas, at least in its current form, while endorsing the rule of law in Calaveras County. That’s a good thing.

Finally, Lew and Kathy Mayhew, a couple who rallied neighbors under the banner of Keep It Rural, Calaveras, and stood steadfast against threats of lawsuits and a torrent of scathing personal assaults, deserve our praise. They never stooped to the level of those who attacked them, and never relented in their work as good citizens to assert their rights and those of their neighbors.

From the outset, the Nemees were given every opportunity to do the right thing, but, as the judge observed, they chose to take another course, one of intentional wrongdoing and misrepresentation. It has hurt many people. There are at least two lessons to be learned from the Trinitas saga. First, we and our government should act sooner and more decisively to confront those who would scoff at our laws and demean fellow citizens. Second, it is wrong to presume that nearly all government action stems from either negligence or corruption, especially when those who rely upon that presumption to mask their own misconduct claim that they are protecting the rest of us from governmental abuse.

Contact Buzz Eggleston at editor@calaverasenterprise.com.

 

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