WatchSonoma Watch

Jenkel fights to hold onto his ranch

John Jenkel stands in front of a barn on his property in Graton. BETH SCHLANKER/PD


Sebastopol horseman and political activist John Jenkel has ticked off a few people in his day.

Well, more than a few.

That happens when you stage war protests at the funeral of a fallen soldier. Or when you rant at public meetings, accusing people from the president to local elected officials of conspiring to cause the Sept. 11 attacks.

So it’s no surprise that the eccentric 72-year-old — who dumped a large manure pile and a casket near the entrance to his Gravenstein Highway ranch — is at odds with his neighbor, winemaker Paul Hobbs.

About three years ago, Hobbs won a $350,000 judgment against Jenkel in a dispute over a stand of century-old trees that were destroyed, allegedly by unchecked well water running from Jenkel’s 16 acres.

Jenkel refused to pay and the court ordered the sheriff to seize two pieces of his land and sell them to Hobbs at separate auctions last year and in 2009. A third sale is set for Thursday.

Although the seizures appear to be a clear-cut civil matter, the man who refers to himself in court papers as “ ‘da 9-11 Bounty Hunter,” insists he’s the target of a government plot to silence him. He’s calling on Gov. Jerry Brown to intervene.

“It’s a land-grab to take over my entire farm,” said Jenkel as he walked the grassy pasture that is next on the auction block. “Paul Hobbs is taking advantage of the fact that Congress wants to destroy me. I’m the only guy holding them accountable for what they’re doing.”

Hobbs, who did not respond to recent requests for comment, previously said Jenkel brought the situation on himself. Jenkel was encroaching on his property and became angry when he put up a fence, the winery owner said.

Jenkel, who’s been deemed a “vexatious litigant” by the courts for his numerous lawsuits filed in Sonoma County, flooded the trees as a kind of pay back, Hobbs said.

“The whole thing is kind of unfortunate,” Hobbs said in an interview last fall. “John kind of pushed us to take some action. To defend ourselves would be the best way to say it. He was a little bit aggressive on our land.”

Jenkel’s in-your-face style hasn’t gone unnoticed at meetings of the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors, where he and his group of paid protesters speak most Tuesday afternoons.

His usual theme — that former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown is behind the 9-11 attacks — is tied to his personal legal woes, which include a criminal charge of improper disposal of a dead horse. He’s accused supervisors and Sonoma County judges of “high treason” for letting it happen.

Supervisor Shirlee Zane said she supports Jenkel’s right to speak but feels threatened by him. She asked for more security and has walked out of the room when he took the podium, she said.

“His thinking is convoluted as to how his legal issues are connected to government,” Zane said. “It’s misplaced aggression.” Other political activists are keeping their distance.

Susan Lamont, head of Santa Rosa’s Peace and Justice Center, said besides a common anti-war theme, they have nothing in common.

“I don’t pay much attention to what he says,” Lamont said. “I think most people wish he’d stay away.”

Jenkel’s war protests grew out of his longtime obsession with Willie Brown, whom he’s accused of forcing him from his San Francisco carriage ride business for political reasons.

Since U.S. forces invaded Iraq, Jenkel has erected anti-war signs and written long screeds accusing Brown and President George Bush of scheming for Middle East oil.

In left-leaning Sebastopol, Jenkel’s roadside banner encouraging motorists to “Honk for Bush behind bars” has attracted more than a few supportive honks.

“I believe in the work he is trying to do,” said political ally Colleen Fernald, also of Sebastopol.

Collaborator Mary Morrison called Jenkel “a unique person.” “He’s definitely being harassed by the government,” she said.

Jenkel’s house, which he said he built in 1965, is the nerve center of his work. It sits back from the highway behind a steel gate, next to horse stables and a group of dusty cabins rented to Morrison and others.

His “war room” is lined with white binders containing his writings, which he copies and distributes. Old newspapers are stapled to walls throughout the house, their headlines blaring war-related developments.

Jenkel gets his message out with the help of young people who read his missives at public meetings across the North Coast and in Sacramento. Jenkel pays them with part of a million-dollar inheritance he said he received about a decade ago that he said is nearly gone.

Now he said he’s trying to hang onto what he’s got. According to court records, he still owes the winery about $300,000, including interest.

On Monday, he sent a letter to the county attorney, Bruce Goldstein, seeking to prevent the upcoming auction. It said Goldstein “will be concealing treason” if the sale proceeds.

Goldstein did not return calls seeking comment. Sheriff’s officials also would not comment about Jenkel.

“This is a sanctuary that’s being stolen by organized crime,” Jenkel said, while standing on his property last week. “I have quail. I have deer. I have horses. And I have people trying to stop mass murder.”

25 Responses to “Jenkel fights to hold onto his ranch”

  1. ross says:

    whole foods has used this site as legitimate research on this controversy. shame on you whole foods! this thread contains little info and lots of virtual hot air.

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  2. Clues says:

    @ TheObserver

    Great comparison……..Jenkel and Neville!
    They made one and obviously did not break the mold.

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  3. GAJ says:

    Despite the fact that his neighbor only paid $1,000 for land that he thought was worth $300,000, he’s still going to put a lien on the poor nut’s house?

    You’ve taken your pound of flesh Hobbs, leave the man alone.

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  4. Villager With Pitchfork says:

    I see I got 32 thumbs down on my comments. What the heck is wrong with you all? Don’t you get it? A man who dissents is trashed in our community and you sit there in your pajamas and judge him?

    This response is truly pathetic.

    It is completely reasonable to go to a Supervisors’ meeting and speak about the war. Or anything. That’s what Public Comments are for. That is the purpose of having Public Comments. So that you, in your democracy, can have a voice and speak about anything that you consider to be important. In your case, probably your sports team and your kid’s school project. In this man’s case, the war.

    The newspaper is the mouthpiece for the City of Santa Rosa and County of Sonoma and is used to stifle dissent. They have swayed you, moved you, and manipulated you. That is unAmerican. Have you forgotten? Dissent is what keeps this a democracy. Free speech. At a public meeting. But you would side against free speech, like a horde. Disgusting. Look at yourself.

    Now our lousy court system has given his neighbor a $250,000 piece of his land for $1000. Is that just? And I bet you think that’s just fine and dandy. Fair market value should be credited against that judgement. What a travesty.

    Paul Hobbs. Paul Hobbs Winery. Remember— this is someone doing business in our community who, unless he takes this land as full payment for the judgement, is lacking in honor.

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  5. Kay Tokerud says:

    No minimum bid? $1,000 for a quarter of a million piece of property? The judge could have cancelled the auction, re-advertised, and gotten a reasonable amount of money for the land. I’ve never heard of having no minimum bid. Ever bid on a parcel? I have, and this is not the way things are done. Outrageous.

    Mr. Hobbs, take this piece and allow this to satisfy the judgement. Continuing to go after your neighbor at this point truly would be stealing his land. But perhaps your greed and lust for your neighbor’s property was how this whole thing happened in the first place. Water leaking on trees? Give me a break.

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  6. Missy says:

    John? how do you know that Hobbs ever asked him to turn off the water. Isn’t it possible that there was a broken pipe? Also, I hope that the few of you who are calling Jenkel names feel better about yourselves now

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  7. Missy says:

    I”d like to know how many “ancient pine?” trees Mr Hobbs cut down in order to plant his vineyards and build his winery? All of this seems very suspicious!

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  8. Reining Again says:

    I interviewed with him for a carriage driving job in the early 90s. I could not get out off that property fast enough. He really spooked me. Even back then he was pretty off kilter, paranoid.

    Anyone know what the deal was with the newer ranch house that sat jacked up on blocks next to his driveway for several years? That was strange…

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  9. Western Cluebird says:

    From what I understand, the constant water directed onto the pine trees from Jenkels property caused the trees to become waterlogged and unstable.One of the trees fell, damaging a building on Hobbs property.
    Jenkel accused Hobbs of killing the trees.
    This was only one of many incidents in which Jenkel acted beligerently against Hobbs winery.
    Jenkel is losing his land piece by piece due to an unwillingness or inability to face reality and deal with it. He could stop the sale of his property by paying the judgement against him. It would certainly make more sense than losing valuable land.
    If Hobbs pays less for the land at auction than the judgement the court ordered Jenkel to pay him,than Hobbs gets a bargin and can keep bidding on parcels until the judgement is fulfilled.

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  10. James Bennett says:

    To Villager with Pitchfork;well said.I’ve been fortunate to spend some time with John.He loves nature and horses.He is obviously against our wars-what intelligent citizen isn’t?Although he discussed the conflict with his neighbor,I don’t really know enough to comment.I know that now, more than ever we need to respect people that have the conviction to speak out against tyranny.These times are about deciding what we are about, and what we want to STAND FOR.Using our beautiful young people.Using our resources.Using up our equity and goodwill with the rest of the world?So that the richest, most evil people can have more?Filling us and the rest of the world with lies and misinformation,and we’re supposed to go along with it like well behaved sheeple?As we are lined up and- morally,economicly,civicly shot.Many of us will turn around and make the shooters look at us while they do it.John Jenkil is such a man.

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  11. SRK says:

    So now Hobbs will be living a little closer to Jenkel. Something tells me this story is not over yet.

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  12. Tom says:

    Live by the courts, die by the courts. Looks like this Kook got a dose of his own medicine.

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  13. TheObserver says:

    As for wars, I agree with Jenkel. They are totally illicit and no one, least of all the government, can explain to me exactly why we allow our youth to die for such vague reasons. American exceptionalism is still a bane of our existence (and for the rest of the world, for that matter).

    As for 9/11 being an inside job. I don’t believe that, but I support Mr. Jenkel’s right to speak his mind in public forums of all kinds regarding his opinion about 9/11, our government, etc.

    As for Mr. Hobbs and a $350,000 judgement, I see that as a neighbor taking advantage of the fact that Mr. Jenkel is viewed as eccentric and can leverage that reputation in front of a jury. Our justice system is HIGHLY subjective, so if someone acts like an “outsider” he or she is going to get killed in a trial conducted by a jury of his “peers” who are the so-called “normal” people in society. The judgment does appear excessive.

    As for the P-D’s reporting, well, that’s pretty subjective too. For instance, all the sensational “bad” stuff about Mr. Jenkel is at the top of the story. The “balance” i.e., quotes from supporters is “below the fold” where few readers tend to go. Journalists and editors understand reading behavior very well and construct their stories to give maximum impact at the front end. Balance is kind of an afterthought.

    Also, when you read sentences like “Jenkel’s house, which he said he built in 1965, is the nerve center of his work. It sits back from the highway behind a steel gate, next to horse stables and a group of dusty cabins rented to Morrison and others.”


    “His ‘war room’ is lined with white binders containing his writings, which he copies and distributes. Old newspapers are stapled to walls throughout the house, their headlines blaring war-related developments,”

    …you begin to understand the power of words to paint an unsavory picture. This reporting is branding Mr. Jenkel as a lunatic. Whether he is or not, I don’t know. I’ve never met or seen the man. But I’d be darn sure to reserve judgment for myself and not rely on the P-D to tell me who this guy is.

    My sense is that this county community tends to gang up on people it decides it doesn’t like. Take the case of Ag Commissioner Cathy Neville, for instance. She has been battered by people who really don’t know her but who are using her to further other political agendas.

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  14. John Hudson says:

    As a gadfly myself, I tend to smell a rat when a fellow gadfly finds himself in mess like Jenkel. However, Jenkel has gained a reputation for not getting along with his neighbors. Unfortunately, the only thing that the article says about the cause of this controversy is that Jenkel let the water from his well damage a grove of ancient trees.

    The law does provide for treble damages for the willful destruction of trees owned by someone else (Code of Civil Procedure section 733). This does not, however, seem like the willful destruction of trees. It seems to be simple negligence. That means there could be no punitive damages. I would really like to know why these trees were worth so much money and why Jenkel didn’t turn off the water.

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  15. Dan Delgado says:

    For those of you questioning the legal process, this is story is a garden variety example of how it works. Hobbs accuses Jenkel of doing something stupid that caused damages to Hobbs’ property. Both sides get their day on court (or agree to a settlement) during which both introduce whatever evidence they think proves their respective points. The judge or jury listens to the evidence and makes as decision (this one evidently went against the Jenkel). The damages are determined by the same process and judgment is entered. Jenkel has 60 days to appeal if he wishes. Jenkel didn’t pay the damages and Hobbs is now enforcing the judgment just as plaintiff’s do every day. All these proceedings are open to the public. So too is the court file. No mystery, no conspiracy.

    The only thing unusual about this case and the reason it made the paper is that Jenkel also happens to be a local gadfly.

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  16. Example says:

    People always hear the warning, “I’ll sue you and take your house”. “Don’t do that, I will get sued and lose my house”… It is called liability. If you do a bad enough wrong on someone and they sue you in court, and win, you will owe them money. If you can’t pay, you may indeed lose your house. In this case it looks like Mr. Jenkel pushed too far and crossed the line. Now he has to pay. I don’t see a conspiracy here. On the subject of 9/11…. If it was a conspiracy and an inside job. That would take a lot of people, completely loyal to Bush to keep silent and Bush would have been a brilliant mastermeind…. I don’t think so.

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  17. Villager with Pitchfork says:

    Look at the wolves jumping onto this man’s back. Why?
    Did the Press Democrat read the court documents? No.
    This is an attack on a person in our community who is portrayed as eccentric because he doesn’t agree with government policy. He stands at a podium and speaks, he’s not threatening anyone.
    Isn’t this what we do in our nation? We speak out on our beliefs—that’s American.
    A man’s farm and inheritance is being bled away from him by the courts. And given to his neighbor, who says he wants it.
    We don’t have to like someone or agree with him to support his right to speak out—that’s American.
    We do have to support a person who is being unjustly attacked in our press and by others in the community who may have self-serving motivations. That too, is American.

    Have we forgotten what it really means to be a community? To be Americans?

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  18. Reality Check says:

    //His beef is with the unlawful wars . . and that 911 was an inside job. What’s wrong with speaking about that?//

    At a county board meeting? You really don’t see anything wrong with taking county time and resources to rant on issues of war and conspiracies?

    As to losing his land, the county isn’t taking it. He was sued in a court of law and found liable for damages. I have no personal knowledge of the case, but this is how our system works.

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  19. RICHARD CANINI says:

    “Jenkel refused to pay and the court ordered the sheriff to seize two pieces of his land and sell them to Hobbs at separate auctions last year and in 2009.”

    “… sell them to Hobbs at separate auctions…”. What?

    Please help us understand this procedure. Who is bidding at the auctions if the land is going to be sold to Hobbs?

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  20. Jason Valez says:

    Another character assassination by the PD. The mostly irrelevant information does nothing to address the real issue of whether or not Sonoma County should be taking away this person’s land.

    I’ve heard Mr. Jenkel speak many times at city council meetings and never seen him act threateningly toward anyone. Sure the subjects he speaks about are highly charged and they should be. His beef is with the unlawful wars the United States is engaged in and that 911 was an inside job. What’s wrong with speaking about that?

    The PD should do their own investigation of the facts by reading all the court filings and waiting to hear testimony before printing opinions about Mr. Jenkels legal proceedings. This article is short on facts and long on unsupported allegations about Mr. Jenkel’s conduct. The PD has reached a new low with this one.

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  21. Pearl Alquileres says:

    Who is crazier? Jenkel, a man who stands for his beliefs no matter who is in office or the Bush haters who seem to think WARS are “OK” now that they’re Obama’s WARS?!!

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  22. John Hudson says:

    Why didn’t he just turn off the water when Hobbs asked him to? On the other hand, $350,000 seems a little high. What was there about those trees that made them worth that much?

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  23. Dave Madigan says:

    This guy is a few cans short of a 6 pack!

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  24. Chris says:


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  25. Paul L. says:

    Who cares

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