By PAUL PAYNE
THE PRESS DEMOCRAT
A Sebastopol-area winery owner was the lone bidder again Thursday on another hunk of activist John Jenkel’s horse ranch, walking away with the nearly three acres of flat, Gravenstein Highway land for a mere $1,000.
It was the third auction conducted by the Sonoma County sheriff to satisfy a $350,000 civil judgment against the offbeat protester stemming from a dispute with his neighbor, winemaker Paul Hobbs.
Since 2009, Hobbs has acquired more than half of Jenkel’s 16 acres through the forced sales for $61,000, according to county records.
“I don’t want to come across as a greedy SOB,” said Hobbs, who just returned from his winery in Argentina. “But some of the things John did … he’s been an irascible neighbor. We’ve really suffered a lot at his hands.”
Hobbs conceded the exceptional nature of the deal but said there have been liens and other expenses in acquiring the earlier properties that total more than $200,000.
“It’s not as sweet a deal as it seems,” Hobbs said. “It’s not a bad deal but it’s not as simple as it looks.”
Jenkel, 72, who erected anti-war signs on his property and shares his belief that the government was behind the 9/11 attacks at meetings across the North Coast, called the sale “a taking.”
He said he tried to block the auction by filing legal papers but was rejected by Superior Court Judge Gary Nadler. He said the seizures were part of a government plot to silence him.
“I’ve done everything I can possibly do to try to stop this,” an emotional Jenkel said outside the county administration building in Santa Rosa.
The auctions stemmed from a 2006 dispute between Hobbs and Jenkel. Hobbs claimed Jenkel destroyed a stand of century-old fir trees on Hobbs’ property by allowing his well to drain onto the property. A judge agreed and ordered Jenkel to pay Hobbs $350,000.
When Jenkel refused, the county began seizing his land and selling it at auction at Hobbs’ request.
Despite the three transactions, Jenkel still owes Hobbs an estimated $300,000. Hobbs said he was considering whether to take part of Jenkel’s remaining seven acres, but said he would not take his house.
“I won’t put the man out of his home,” he said. “I might put a lien on his property, though.”
Jenkel said he would call for investigations by the district attorney and state attorney general. He didn’t attend the auction or try to get someone to bid on his property because he doesn’t recognize the seizure as legal, he said.
Meanwhile, Hobbs said he would plant pinot noir grapes on his newly acquired land.
The three purchases bring his winery property to the edge of busy Highway 116. Before the dispute, he had only limited access and had obtained an easement from Jenkel.
Since opening the winery in 2006, Hobbs said Jenkel created a nuisance with an accumulation of junk cars, dilapidated outbuildings and protest signs.
He said he was happy for the chance to clean it up.
“Let’s be honest — those are nice parcels along the road,” Hobbs said. “We really feel we were justified in taking them and that what we’ve done is fair.”
Hobbs said he was surprised at the lack of competition for an auction that was advertised in The Press Democrat legal notices section. Joan Maxwell, the winery’s chief financial officer, said the company was prepared to bid up to $300,000 for the last piece.
But the auction opened with no minimum and the winery snapped it up for $1,000 cash.
Area real estate agents expressed surprise Thursday at what it went for.
“Oh my gosh,” said Roger Strawbridge of Frank Howard Allen Realtors-Graton. “It’s an absurd price. I should have been there.”