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The Oakland A’s — Albion Timber Connection

If a tree falls in Albion will the Oakland A's be able to afford a high priced free agent? For those readers whose esoterica does not extend to the connection between timber harvest plans alongside the Albion River and major league baseball, the direct link between chopping large, second growth redwoods and baseball is John Fisher.

John Fisher
John Fisher

John Fisher is the 53 year old son of the founders of The Gap, Inc. Don't blame yourself if you don't recognize what comes next because you pretty much have to slip yourself into the corporate crapper to understand the precise connections that await, and this is just what crap-dwelling creatures like the Fishers want. They thrive in the crap stream. John Fisher thrives to the extent of multiple billions in personal worth according to wealth indexers like Forbes magazine.

Mendocino Redwood Company LLC (Limited Liability Corporation) is owned and controlled by Sansome Forest Products LP (Limited Partnership) and something called Sd Genpar, Inc. Sd Genpar's corporate head is a fellow named Alexander Dean.

Sandy Dean, as most people know him, was the first public face of Mendocino Redwood Co. (MRC) back in the late 1990s when MRC bought 230,000 acres of Mendocino County timberlands from Louisiana-Pacific Corporation.

Sansome Forest Products LP has more corporate tentacles than you can shake a crooked switch at. Among those tentacles are: Sansome Valueact Partners LP, the aforementioned Sd Genpar, Jjf Genpar Inc, Sansome 120 LP, Truegard LLC, Sansome Planes LP, Sansome Coffee, Sansome Planes II LP, Sansome Pfi LP, Sansome Equity Partners… I could go on, there's more.

But you get the point. Except that we haven't gottten to a Fisher yet. To get that connection, one has to return to Sandy (Alexander) Dean and take note that he is also President of Sansome Partners, LLC, but don't let your eye wander to the other Sansome named corporate pieces of the shell game or you'll lose sight of the goal.

Sansome Partners, LLC has another founding member. Guess who? Yes, finally, Mr. John J. Fisher. Just to make this part of the corporate joke complete, Sansome Partners, LLC has one more direct corporate link, and that is to an entity called De Investing (I guess when all else fails, you de-invest). The founding officer of De Investing: John Fisher.

About the same time John Fisher and relatives were acquiring the 230,000 acres of forestland in Mendocino County, Fisher also acquired an ownership stake in the Fairmont Hotels of San Francisco and San Jose. Also in on this venture was another businessman named Lew Wolff. In 2005 Wolff fronted a group who bought the Oakland Athletics for approximately $180,000,000. Wolff has remained the up front man for this major league baseball team, but the principal shareholder, in terms of investment dollars, is John Fisher.

Today, Bloomberg and Forbes estimate the value of the Oakland A's at around $500,000,000. Others in the baseball world have stated that if sold now, the Oakland franchise might bring in as much as $700,000,000.

The A's won the American League Western Division title in 2012 and 2013, but each year the team failed in the playoffs. In 2014, the team appeared on its way to another Western Division crown and just to make sure, the team's wheeler-dealer general manager, Billy Beane, made mid-season trades to acquire front line pitchers Jeff Samardzija (say that three times fast) and Jason Hammel; then a few weeks later really showed they were going for it by dealing for high priced pitcher Jon Lester. Unfortunately for the A's and their fans the bubble burst, the team stopped hitting consistently and the team advanced no farther than the wild card game, which they lost to the Kansas City Royals. Lester, as it turned out, was only the shortest of short term investments because he is a free agent now. The A's have never shown an inkling of interest in free agent players who will command high eight or nine figure contracts (we're not dealing in decimal points here — expect several free agents to receive offers well over the $100 million dollar mark this winter).

The Oakland A's of the 21st Century owe most of their success to the abilities of general manager Billy Beane to build and re-build clubs out of the thrift store bargain basement of young and under appreciated players. The A's are consistently near the bottom of the list in total player salaries, always far below their cross-Bay rivals, the San Francisco Giants. The A's benefit annually from a little thing called revenue sharing. Baseball's revenue sharing system is set up so that when money-glutted franchises like the Yankees or Dodgers spend exorbitant amounts on their players' salaries, a certain amount is set aside in a pool for those teams with low end payrolls. For the decade that John Fisher has been principal owner of the A's his franchise has reaped tens of millions of dollars from this revenue sharing system.

Are we getting the picture? John Fisher doesn't like to spend money, he likes to collect it, by the millions and millions. Unless a lot of trees fall and get cut up into boards to be shipped to the Home Depot there will never be enough money for the A's to sign their young, talented players to long term contracts let alone sign top line, yet pricey free agents.

Enter Timber Harvest Plan (THP) 1-14-080, Mendocino Redwood Company's plan to cut timber on 758 acres of Railroad Gulch in the lower watershed of the Albion River. Railroad Gulch is by far the most significant tributary to the Albion. It has been logged before (my oldest uncle chopped trees there in 1906), and more than once, but there are a goodly number of large second growth redwoods still available for cutting.

People like local Sierra Club member Linda Perkins can provide an extremely detailed list of reasons for significantly reducing MRC's timber harvest plan in size and scope. In fact, at a meeting at the Albion School on November 13th, she asked several pertinent questions of MRC's President and Chief Forester, Mike Jani, and his right hand man, John Andersen.

One of Andersen's replies concerning pre-harvest planning went this way, “We can't get to every acre on the plan before we submit it” — meaning before the THP is sent in to CalFire (formerly California Department of Forestry).

This simple fact struck home for yours truly and I asked my only question of the two-hour meeting, which was really more of a statement. When the Macdonald family was preparing to submit a Non-Industrial Timber Management Plan (NTMP) to the Department of Forestry in the early 1990s my father, Lorne Macdonald, then in his 80s, walked all 180 acres of this ranch as part of the preparation for said NTMP.

If a man in his 80s can walk 180 acres of his own land before cutting a sustained yield amount of trees on it, why on God's green earth can't a corporate timber company (owner of more land in this county than any other person or company) patrol every acre of a parcel they intend to log?

Needless to say, neither Andersen nor Jani had a straightforward response.

What it amounts to is this: the Fisher family is too cheap to pay for enough man or woman power so that MRC employees could walk each acre of a proposed THP before submitting the plan to the state department that governs forestry. Anyone with an ounce of common sense would tell you that if MRC isn't willing or able to patrol their own lands before submitting a timber harvest plan, they shouldn't be allowed to go ahead with that harvest. It bottoms out at common sense. The Fishers have the common sense to pinch pennies and dollars. Does CalFire possess the common sense to spot a cheaper than cheap huckster of a timber company in their midst? Don't hold your breath.

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