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Brooktrails Buyers Beware!

Deerwood Corporation is running a sleazy real estate scam, targeting unsuspecting Bay Area immigrants by selling them undeveloped lots in Brooktrails at hugely inflated prices. The Bay Area buyers, targeted by an expensive advertising campaign, are brought up to the subdivision adjacent to Willits on chartered busses, and real estate magnate Tom Porter keeps them up there all day on a family-picnic type hard sell. According to Bob Whitney, an environmental planner and economist newly elected to the Brooktrails Community Services district board, the unsuspecting marks are usually Korean, Filipino, Chinese, and Mexican. “Mostly recent immigrants with strong family ties who pool their money, have limited English skills, but hard workers who just want to buy their little piece of America. These people are really being taken advantage of.” They think $35,000, at 10 percent down, is a good deal. Many of them put the $3500 down on their credit cards. They know they’ll never be able to buy a lot in San Francisco (where undeveloped lots go for $100,000 and the average home is $250,000) and have no idea that the lots are only worth $8,000 to $15,000 at the most. Porter’s happy because he only paid $3500 for each lot.

Former Brooktrails Board member Paul Copeland (who owns the Wild West Express) said that the ever ingenious Porter even hired a DC-3 to fly into Brooktrails airport with a full load of naive, unsuspecting potential customers. “It was something else. They flew over Main St. Willits, and local real estate firms put out big banners saying “Brooktrails lots-$5,000 to $8,000.” One guy with property to sell even put a sign on his truck saying ‘Brooktrails lot-$5,000’” Deerwood Corporation took the enterprising Willits man, Gene Hoggren, to court and asked the court to enjoin Hoggren from placing any sales prices of Brooktrails lots on his vehicle. The court found Hoggren in violation of the law; interference with prospective economic advantage, trade libel, unfair business practices. Hoggren was sentenced by Judge Conrad Cox to 25 days in jail and a $25,000 fine. Porter even won a restraining order against Hoggren. “First Amendment rights? Not in Mendocino County,” added Copeland. Other Willits real estate firms complained that their signs were removed or vandalized from their Brooktrails lots.

The majority of the Brooktrails bus crowd default on the purchase of their lots, which doesn’t bother Deerwood Corporation, since they make their sales price back with just the down payment. Most of the Bay Area buyers purchased the lots as investments, planning to resell in a few years at a tidy profit. Some thought they would build their retirement dream home. When they find out that not only will they fail to make a profit, but that they paid more than twice what the property is worth, they usually quit making payments. The Deerwood Corporation just forecloses and resells to another eager Bay Area buyer. Sixty percent of Mendocino County foreclosures in 1994 were Brooktrails lots purchased through Tom Porter. “It’s technically legal from a real estate point of view, but business wise it’s certainly questionable ethics. This type of real estate hustle is one thing I want to get the Brooktrails Board to look into,” Whitney added.

Brooktrails Township, one of the largest subdivisions in California, has been plagued with development problems since its questionable inception in 1966. It passed the board of Supervisors as a ”Vacation Village” in the first place, it was never supposed to be for full time residents.There are 6200 small lots in the hillside subdivision, ranging in size from 1/6 acre to 1 acre, the average being only 1/4 of an acre, which is very high density for a rural community serviced by only 1 two lane road, Sherwood Road. There is not adequate water and sewage to develop all of the lots, and many of the lots (including some of Porter’s) are not buildable because they are on cliff sides. Porter bought 242 lots at a bargain tax sale from Brooktrails and is aggressively marketing all his lots as buildable.Since the mid-1980s, Porter and his wife, through three separate family owned companies, have purchased and resold, or gifted to their children 2,000 lots.

Approximately 1,300 homes have already been built in Brooktrails, with a full-time population of 3,700 (and not a vacationer in sight). On Monday, October 27, the county Board of Supervisors approved Brooktrails Specific Plan, which allows a total build-out of 4,000 lots. Assisted by a cadre of high-priced attorneys led by the infamous Jared Carter, Deerwood Corporation fought the Specific Plan. Many Brooktrails residents favor less development, preferring a cap of 2,000 buildable lots, combined with a much stronger lot merger program. Newly elected board members Bob Whitney and (BLM engineer) Richard Estabrook are for the least development, and hope to make preserving the environment a major priority in Brooktrails. Re-elected incumbent Tony Orth (owner of NCD Satellite) is for moderate development.The extreme pro-development bunch such as real estate broker Kurt Ackerman and machine shop owner Clay Romero (both ran for the Brooktrails board November 4 and lost) and Deerwood’s Tom Porter (who lives in San Ramon) are for full scale development. Deerwood Corporation continues to fight Brooktrails Township in court battles, for development of every lot, an access road to Highway 20 built and a new dam to provide water for the projected thousands of new future residents, which would make Brooktrails subdivision a city the size of Ukiah, if not larger. Deerwood Corporation issued a statement to Brooktrails Township board members, stating,"There are approximately 4,700 vacant lots in Brooktrails. These lot owners have paid and paid and paid and are willing to keep paying if we permit their dream of building in Brooktrails to be kept alive."

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