Loafer Creek seeks unusual county ‘partnership’

On a day when the Butte County Board of Supervisors was poised finally to begin the process of updating its decades-old general plan, a local company announced that it wants to “partner” with the county in preparing for the development of as many as 35,000 new homes, which the company hopes will be built within the next five to 10 years.

The ambitious but rather vague proposal was presented to the board by lawyers for Loafer Creek, LLC, an Oroville company that owns at least 20,000 acres of mostly hillside property throughout the county. Loafer Creek operates a mitigation bank that sells environmental credits to developers who wish to build on environmentally sensitive land. The company revealed at Tuesday’s meeting that it has also designs to build some 10,000 homes north of Chico, which would make it the first company ever to attempt to be both a mitigation bank and a real estate developer at the same time.

“We could simply stay with mitigation,” Loafer Creek’s environmental counsel, Mike Ohm (pictured above), told the board. “But this is a for-profit enterprise, and Butte County needs development.”

Ohm told the board that if the county went along with Loafer Creek’s plan, it stood to gain in excess of $4 billion in land, negotiable mitigation credits, builders’ fees and property taxes. But Ohm hinted that, in exchange for such riches, the county might have to write its general plan to conform to the company’s vision.

“We think it’s not a lot to ask for,” Ohm told the board. “Developers are going to do it anyway—we’re trying to put the county in control of the process.”

Some of the supervisors seemed eager to hear more, while others expressed reservations. Oroville Supervisor Bill Connelly, a contractor by trade, said he would like to meet with the company, but he was warned by County Counsel Bruce Alpert that such a meeting had the potential to run afoul of state open-meeting laws. Chico Supervisor Mary Anne Houx was openly combative with the company’s lawyers, while her fellow Chico supervisor, Jane Dolan, was conspicuously silent.

Richvale Supervisor Curt Josiassen, who put the item on the agenda and has taken thousands in campaign contributions from Loafer Creek and its principal owner, Dan Kohrdt, said he was unclear on what the company was proposing, but he hoped that the county did not become “the mitigation bank for the rest of the state.”

County leaders seemed more confused by the proposal than anything else. It didn’t help that the backing material Loafer Creek handed out at the meeting was basically a hard copy of the company’s Web site with few details on any development ideas. A cover letter included in that packet listed 10 ways the county stood to gain from partnering with the company but no explanation of how such benefits would accrue. The county’s role in the proposed partnership, according to the letter, would be to “Engage in a prompt and good faith effort with Loafer Creek and/or its development partners … to identify, prioritize and entitle Loafer Creek projects consistent with the evolving general plan.”

The next day, county CAO Paul McIntosh said there are “a lot of questions that need to be answered before we could ever assess the meaning of their proposal.

“I think they were basically saying, ‘Let us go to the front of the line of any major developer because we’ve got these mitigation credits'—which is problematic. The whole concept of mitigation banking and habitat protection is one that we’re only beginning to explore and understand. We really need to understand that before we figure out how Loafer Creek’s proposal fits into anything.”

Dan Kohrdt has a history of butting heads with county planners and supervisors. In 2001, Korhdt made a show of demolishing a small sheriff’s substation he built in the Oroville foothills, trucking the debris in boxes to a supervisors’ meeting to protest what he said were obstacles the county was erecting to stymie development. While county officials hinted that Kohrdt was grandstanding and trying to cover up the failures of his project, Kohrdt became a folk hero of sorts to many in Oroville who believed the region wasn’t growing as fast as it should.

Since then, Korhdt has been quietly buying thousands of acres of land—much of it reportedly for cash—that he is poised to leverage for its value as both mitigation and development property.