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Potter Valley Pomos Buy Fort Bragg’s White Ranch

The White Ranch Property
The White Ranch Property

Here we go again.

After sitting on the market for a year, the White Ranch property has sold. This time the buyer is not a predatory, out-of-town developer with his heart set on ticky-tacky boxes and a subdivision of half-acre parcels. Instead, the new owners—a small band of the Pomo nation—are local: the Potter Valley Tribe. As such, they come to the deal with shallower pockets and, they say, preservationist intentions.

The tribe’s realtor, Hai-Lee Sun, said that an economic development plan for the land is still being crafted, but there are no plans to build a casino on the sprawling 69-acre property north of Fort Bragg. According to Sun, the tribe hopes to restore the ranch’s historic buildings and to build an RV park to profit from the coast’s summertime tourist trade. The rest of the year, Sun said, the property will be for “their own use, as a tribe.”

But the tribe’s professed good intentions are not enough to quell fears over the land’s future, which has been uncertain since Sacramento-area developer John Reynen bought the property in 2005. Reynen hoped to build more than 250 houses on the White Ranch—a radical reimagining of the Mendocino Coast that was met with hostile opposition from many in the local community.

The development plan required Fort Bragg to annex the property, allowing access to water and other city services. But Reynen withdrew his application on December 1, 2006, after city staff determined the city was facing a water shortage that would be worsened by bringing such a large scale project into city limits.

A year-and-half later, the housing bubble burst, and the over-extended developer filed for bankruptcy. His failure to forge Fort Bragg’s suburban future was a small part of Reynen’s larger troubles. Having invested heavily in similar projects elsewhere—and collected multi-million dollar vacation homes like the rest of us accumulate kitchen appliances or soon-to-be obsolete tech gadgets—Reynen was $273 million dollars in debt, according to the Sacramento Bee. The Savings Bank of Mendocino took over the White Ranch, and the land—listed at $1.75 million—had been on the market since.

Now, with new owners and only a tentative plan for the property, the White Ranch is again raising questions about what Fort Bragg will look like in 10 or 20 years. This time, though, the community may have limited say in crafting that future.

As a federally recognized tribe, the Potter Valley Tribe can apply to have the White Ranch designated as a Federal Trust. That would mean the property, like a reservation, would be under the authority of the Bureau of Indian Affairs—not the local government. Development on the property, therefore, would be limited only by federal laws applying to Federal Trust land, not by Mendocino planning and zoning laws.

Whether the Potter Valley Tribe intends to pursue trust status for the White property isn’t known. Calls to the tribal chair, Salvador Rosales, were not returned. A representative at the Bureau of Indian Affairs says the decision to seek Federal Trust status is entirely up to the tribe.

One thing seems clear: Mendo’s native-fetishizing, eco-warriors—the well-intentioned sweat lodge and peace pipe crowd—are likely to find themselves overwhelmed by cognitive dissonance in the face of a landowner that’s as difficult to demonize as Obama is to parody.

How can one rail against the abuses endured by native peoples, embrace their shamanic ceremonies and celebrate their infallible stewardship of the earth while arguing against the RV park they hope to build on the land that was once theirs? How to idolize Native Americans while fearing their limited autonomous rights and exception from local government oversight?

Time will tell.


  1. Salvador Rosales November 20, 2009

    Ms. Freda Moon you shouldn’t be so quick with the pen! I left a message asking
    for you to return my call, the gentle who had answered the phone the day I had
    called stated he would give the message to you, that I called. I would have
    provided in more detail about plans the Potter Valley Tribe has for the
    property in Fort Bragg. and for the residents of the city of Fort Bragg don’t
    worry, plans for a rv park are easy said than done. because it take money to
    make it happen, money we don’t have! just dreams. one thing for sure, my tribal
    members and friends will enjoy the seasonal gathering of our coastal foods alot
    more when prepared right there on our coast property. like my ancestors would
    before me. so Freda Moon give me a call when you have time! thanks

    Salvador Rosales, chairman of the Potter Valley Tribe of Pomo Indians
    more detail

    • Freda Moon Post author | November 20, 2009

      Thanks for the post Salvador. Unfortunately, our deadline here at the AVA is Tuesday morning, so this week’s issue was already on the stands by the time I’d heard back from you. I’m looking forward to talking with you and getting more details on the tribe’s plans for the property.

  2. Rick Riley November 26, 2009

    Well, first of all, congratulations are in order and I welcome the Potter Valley Pomo back to the neighborhood. I’m pleased that the land has passed into the hands of a private party which has the wherewithal to maintain it. Rehabilitating the buildings on the site will improve the view and I’m all for that. Preserving what you have and growing trees costs little and adds so much.
    I live almost two miles to the north and about a mile from the ocean and consider this area — from Bald Hill to the Laguna Point in MacKerricher Park south of Mill Creek — to have been the original path for the Pomo ancestors travelling from far inland on the Little Lake -Sherwood Trail to the coast. The White Ranch property, while a nice piece of land, is a parcel that came out of the establishment of the reservation. It doesn’t have the plentiful fresh water we enjoy. I invite the Pomo to explore the Creation story from the point of view of their thirsty forebear travelling to the coast on a hot day. You’ll pass through my living room, drink from the creek, camp in the yard, and enjoy the bounty of the coast around the Laguna. I say, my friends, you’ll enjoy this land more when you live here for awhile.
    Rick Riley

  3. Javier Silva December 7, 2009

    Hello, this is Javier Silva from the Sherwood Valley Band of Pomo. I support what the Potter Valley Pomo plan on doing on the land and encourage them to continue with their economic efforts. The people in Fort Bragg well know our presence with the small community located on the Noyo Harbour made up of Sherwood Valley members. We appreciate any support from the Fort Bragg community in our efforts to restore, enhance and respect our cultural values. We are the original stewards of the land and as such we look to protect our environment. Our people continue to gather and hunt to this day. We need to reassure them that it is safe to do so now and in the future. Again, I want to show my support for the Potter Valley Pomo and hope to work with them, the people of Fort Bragg and the county in the near future. Thank you for your time.

    Javier Silva, Sherwood Valley Band of Pomo

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