For many years four parcels of land drew water from springs on Sam Prather's Indian Creek Road property. The water was piped into a tank where it was distributed to Lynn Archambault's one acre where it was her only source of water; a two acre property that was owned for many, many years by the Edwards family who also had a good well; and to the Hulbert family who supplemented their murky well with Sam’s spring water. Sam's prize-winning sheep drank directly from a stream near the springs.
For Sam that's the way it had been for his father and that's the way it had been for the many years he worked the sheep on the land. He didn't question it, that's the way it was.
Then the Edwards place sold to a San Jose pot grower named Brian Wade Padilla and his wife, who proceeded to install an unpermitted concrete retaining wall, build a class K 2600 square-foot "storage/ag" building with an attached greenhouse, where he grew his commercial crop that violated setback requirements to Prather's property line.
The disruptive Valley newcomer from San Jose soon found himself in a dispute with Lynn Archambault, a highly regarded, long-time Valley musician and teacher. Ms. Archambault lost the dispute, causing her to spend many thousands of dollars to dig her own well. The old arrangement that had served her and her neighbors for all the years was over for her.
Padilla, sometimes with five or six of his cohorts, also routinely trespassed on Prather’s land, helping themselves to trees cut for firewood.
Things grumbled along for awhile and then came the drought, and in 2013, with the two remaining parties on the old gravity flow, spring-fed water system taking water for marijuana there was no water left for Sam's sheep.
Sam complained to the Department of Fish and Wildlife. Local Warden Mark White who, when seeing that the small stream that fed into Indian Creek was dry where it passed under Indian Creek Road, went with Sam up the hill and then followed a two-inch black plastic pipe.
In his subsequent official report, Warden White stated that he found that the pipe branched twice to spring boxes that looked recently installed and terminated in a "large pool" taking essentially all of the water flowing to that point.
Warden White estimated the diverted water to be about five gallons per minute which, given the prevailing drought, was an enviable amount of water. But it was achieved at the expense of Sam's thirsty sheep.
Warden White returned to the diversion a few days later with Fish and Wildlife Environmental Scientist Wes Stokes. White and Stokes photographed what was described as "25 large marijuana plants" growing on the Padilla property.
Warden White's report summarized the situation:
"Prather asked me if he could remove the water diversion debris that was on his property. I advised Prather that it was his property and it was an illigal diversion, so if he would like to remove it he could. He asked for assistance in restoring the tributary back to original form, so on 11/14/2013 I met with Prather on his property at 17501 Indian Creek Road to assist him with restoring the water back to the tributary. Upon arriving at the large pool of water at the main point of diversion, it was apparent someone had recently built a dam. The dam had been built out of dirt, rock and wood debris, with the two inch diameter waterline going through the dam. The upstream side of the dam contained a large pool of water, but the downstream side of the dam was essentially completely dried up streambed. Prather removed the plastic waterline that was in the bed of the creek …I attempted to open the dam … but without appropriate tools I was somewhat unsuccessful."
Warden White talked with Brian Padilla. Padilla told of an old easement he had for water from Prather's property. Padilla also admitted that he "has put that dam in every year in the fall when the creek gets lower."
From White's report: "I researched the water right deeded to Padilla and had several maps made by GPS specialist that show that Padilla's main point of diversion was outside of the easement in his water right's deed."
Warden White's detailed eight page report recomended that Brian Wade Padilla be charged by the Mendocino County District Attorney's Office for the following Fish and Game code sections violations:
Sec. 1602 Unlawful to divert/obstruct natural flow. Sec. 5650 Unlawful to deposit deleterious substance (sediment). Sec. 5652 Unlawful to deposit/permit to pass into stream … any plastic litter and rubbish material. Sec 5901 Unlawful to construct a dam. Sec. 5937 Owner of Dam shall allow sufficient water to pass.
Because there was an old (1910) easement for water the issue was muddied. Padilla did have rights to some water and a pipe to get it to his property; Yet by taking all of the water from a point "outside of the easement," damming the stream to do so and leaving quite a mess, Padilla had violated the law and certainly the spirit of the ancient agreement among neighbors to share the water. Padilla had rights perhaps to the side springs, but not all of the water in the main stream.
Muddled as it may have seemed, an equitable water sharing arrangement might easily have been arranged with Sam perhaps replacing that portion of the pipe that was within the Padilla easement and with Padilla, cleaning up the mess he’d made and limiting his water-taking to the two springs. Small fines might be imposed on Padilla for his illegal diversion and his construction of a haphazard and stream-damaging dam.
What happened was that greed and belligerance set in, lawyers got involved and apparent carelessness, incompetence or corruption determined an outcome far beyond reason and quite possibly bordering on elder abuse. The following is a brief rundown of how this played out.
Fish and Wildlife presented their findings to the DA for prosecution; Deputy DA Tim Stoen filed a five-count charge sheet against Padilla — four Fish & Wildlife violations and a trespass count.
Padilla hired Willits attorney Chris Neary and counter-sued both Fish and Wildlife and Sam Prather. It should be emphasized that Sam’s dismantling of Padilla’s diversion occurred with both Fish and Wildlife’s sanction and the physical presence and assistance of Fish and Wildlife’s Warden White. In other words, Sam, standing on his own property, had the full approval of state government. DA David Eyster, claiming "insufficiant evidence,” dropped the charges against Padilla. It must be noted that Padilla's attorney Chris Neary was Eyster's campaign manager.
Padilla subsequently dropped the suit against Fish and Wildlife but continued the suit against Sam for violating his water easement rights.
With the trial set to go, Sam and his sister, who was also named because she was also on the family property deed referenced by the 1910 water easement, were dismayed that they would both have to attend a "month long" trial.
Sam is a rancher. He works alone, and his scattered sheep need daily attention. He doesn’t have the time to sit around in court at the convenience of judges and lawyers.
Sam's attorney worked out a "Settlement Agreement and Release" with Padilla which gave Padilla $50,001 in cash and a Boundary Line Adjustment that took from Sam and gave to Padilla that land "depicted in Exhibit B by yellow highlighting." This was depicted on a county provided aerial map that was scale-wise inaccurate and Sam was told by the lawyers that the property amounted to about three acres.
Here it would be appropriate to describe a bit about Sam. At over 70 he does have memory and comprehension issues that become apparent to anyone with close dealings to him. He is a wizard when it comes to raising and breeding sheep but, like many of us, he is slow to fully comprehend maps and documents and legal matters. And like most of us Sam leaves the legal stuff up to those he thinks are looking out for his interests, in this case his lawyer, Brian Carter of Ukiah.
When Carter laid the agreement down in front of Sam, he said Sam's Grange insurance would pay the $50,000 and the land involved was only 3 acres. Sam reluctantly signed, later explaining, "He told me this was the deal and that I should sign." Sam felt he had no choice.
The signed agreement did not designate the acreage to be conveyed by Prather to Padilla but rather "… that portion …. depicted in Exhibit B by yellow highlighting …".
Simply looking at Exhibit B it appeared very much like 3 acres and that's what Sam was told it was. But when the property was finally surveyed it turned out to be 7.6 acres. That 7.6 acres was a big chunk of his best lower pasture.
Sam challenged the "Agreement" in court claiming there was no meeting of minds over the acreage amount but lost.
What is missing here is what went on during the time back in 2013 that the "Agreement" was signed and now.
Padilla's lawyer, Chris Neary, conveniently discovered that the 2-acre Padilla property had, in 1904-1905, been two, 1 acre parcels. Neary got Certificates of Compliance to divide the 2 acre Padilla place back into two, one-acre parcels. This has allowed Padilla to divide Sam’s 7.6 acres in half, meaning that Padilla gets two 4.8 acre parcels. Without the magic land split Padilla would have had one 9.6 acre indivisible piece of land.
Upshot: Brian Padilla breaks the law; he installs an illegal creek diversion, Fish and Wildlife charge him with four violations. He takes all of the water for Sam's sheep and gets a half million dollars worth of property and $50,000 cash.
Sam's lawyer, Brian Carter, manages to convert a slam dunk win for Sam based on the very clear Fish and Wildlife report and the old sheep rancher gets a court-sanctioned mugging.
1) Warden White's report and arrest recommendation: WardenWhiteReportNov1413
2) Brian Padilla, owner of Brian's Welding in San Jose, bends metal into pleasing designs: