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January 17, 2021

Sargent Ranch on auction block July 26

A new development in the twisted saga for the battle over Sargent Ranch – vast expanse of undulating hills, pristine streams, unsullied wildlife habitats and unincorporated farmland just south of Gilroy – popped up last week in a Santa Cruz Sentinel legal notice alerting the public to a foreclosure auction slated later this month.
Located on the west side of U.S. 101 between the Castro Valley Ranch and the San Benito and Santa Cruz county lines, the 6,500 acres have been ensnared in litigation since the former primary owner – La Jolla developer Wayne Pierce – filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in December 2010. At the time, Sargent Ranch, LLC owed more than $90 million on the property.
Pierce previously made a backdoor attempt to build a luxury gaming resort and sand quarry on the property. The news was met with heated contention from the Amah Mutsun Indians, a band of Ohlone/Costanoan Native Americans who revere Sargent Ranch as a hallowed domain of heritage, history and territorial identity.
The upcoming auction only applies to the Santa Cruz County region of Sargent Ranch, and does not include any portion the acreage falling within Santa Clara County boundaries. The sale is scheduled for 1:30 p.m., July 26 on the steps of the Santa Cruz County Administration Building, located at 701 Ocean Street in Santa Cruz.
First Blackhawk Financial Corp., the Danville-based lender foreclosing on Sargent Ranch, is seeking to recover $21.6 million, according to the legal notice. The duly appointed trustee is listed as WT Capital Lender Services in Fresno.
Two years ago, then Sargent Ranch attorney John Smaha said the company had tried to work with Blackhawk, but failed to reach a deal that prevented the property from going into foreclosure.
Searches for First Blackhawk yielded two phone numbers that are no longer in service.
As the legal notice points out, buyers would take over the interest of Sargent Ranch, LLC. Any purchaser(s) at the auction “would not receive a 100 percent interest into said land.”
“If you are considering bidding on this property lien, you should understand that there are risks involved in bidding at a trustee auction,” the notice reads. “You will be bidding on a lien, not on the property itself. Placing the highest bid at a trustee auction does not automatically entitle you to free and clear ownership of the property.”
Dave Johnston with the California Department of Fish and Game says there are three deeds of trust with debt on the Sargent Ranch property.
“They’ve been going through bankruptcy for some time. This is the first official thing that’s kind of dropped out of it,” said Johnston, who keeps tabs on the Sargent Ranch litigation out of professional curiosity and a platform of environmental concern.
“I know a number of groups that are potentially interested in a parcel,” he continued. “The basic deal is there are three competing deeds of trust holders, and they are basically now trying to duke things out.”
Proposals to develop Sargent Ranch have been repeatedly rebuffed by Santa Clara County.

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