FORT BRAGG, 10/15/23 — David Figueiredo, owner of the Union Lumber Company Store in Fort Bragg, asked the Fort Bragg City Council Tuesday night to withdraw its legal action against the Skunk Train.
Figueiredo said new legal papers served on Mendocino Railway (the Skunk Train) by the city had caused the railroad to walk away from a completed deal for him to sell the lumber company’s iconic building to the railway.
Although Figueiredo indicated a new suit had been filed, that is not the case, a look at county court files showed.
The legal papers filed by the city were actually a response to a Skunk-initiated motion for a stay, or delay, in the ongoing 2021 suit in which the city and California Coastal Commission have contested the Skunk’s claim that it operates under federal railroad laws and is not subject to city or state regulations.
Figueiredo’s report of new legal action and sale of the Company Store came as a surprise to others at the city council meeting, and one speaker joined in his criticism of the city.
The Union Lumber Company Store fills nearly half a block downtown. The ancient fir and redwood edifice houses a bicycle store, a bar, a restaurant, spa, a coffee hangout, the Mendocino Cookie Company and other small businesses. The Company Store was where people in town got everything they needed in the earliest days. There is a photo from 110 years inside the building, showing it looking pretty much the same as now, though it was proudly blazing more electric lights back in the day. The building has not changed hands for 40 years.
The Skunk tracks are inches from the back of The Company Store, which is adjacent to the towering Guest House Museum. The Company Store and Guest House, constructed in the grandest style of the 19th century for the Union Lumber Company, have always been the heart of Fort Bragg. The lumber company and train were all one operation at the time.
Figueiredo, 65, said he’s been negotiating with the railroad about the sale of the building for five years; he wants to retire after 40 years of ownership. He told the city council Tuesday night that when he walked in to see Skunk owner Chris Hart this week, he found out the deal was dead.
In the meeting, Figueiredo claimed that Hart told him the deal was off and that Hart then added, “The city dropped the lawsuit on us Friday.”
The newly delivered lengthy and complex motion in the case can be seen at the end of the article.
“Defendant’s unpermitted and unregulated development in the coastal zone is ongoing and substantial. Staying this case would further prevent the City and the Commission from determining the extent of the damage to the City and the coast being caused by Defendant’s development activities. Therefore, Defendant’s Motion for Stay must be denied and discovery must be permitted to commence immediately,” a motion to intervene by the state Coastal Commission says.
The Coastal Commission joined the city in taking enforcement action against the Skunk Train after the railroad continued developing the former Georgia Pacific millsite property. The railroad insisted that it was a “common carrier” railroad regulated by the federal government, not the city or state.
The motion further states, “Defendant Mendocino Railway has made every effort to delay discovery and prevent this court from hearing this case, and now seeks a likely multi-year stay premised on its appeals of its losses in both state and federal court, as well as pure speculation on how each of the appellate courts might rule.”
The Coastal Commission has charged thousands of dollars in daily fines at the railroad for not getting the permits. If the railroad’s request for a stay is refused, months of discovery would begin, unless a settlement is reached. Ultimately, a decision or settlement will come as to whether the railroad has to get permission from the city and the Coastal Commission to develop the abandoned oceanfront millsite, which still separates Fort Bragg from its oceanfront. An option to piecemeal development has been proposed and discussed, but dropped as relations between the city and railroad soured.
Councilmember Lindy Peters said he could not comment on the ongoing lawsuit. He said he had no idea what Figueiredo was talking about, and the city had no knowledge of, or involvement in, the selling of the Company Store, nor was that building part of the legal matter. He said based on what was said at the meeting, it sounded like the negotiations had gone bad, and the city had been wrongly blamed. Hart said he could not comment because it involved ongoing litigation.
The negotiations to sell the Company Store to the Skunk have been a matter of general knowledge for some business owners and managers in the downtown area. Others said Figueiredo changed his mind about selling the building along the way. He told the council that he had decided to sell at a discount, but only to the railroad.
The Skunk has been feeling the pressure of the legal action and had hoped the city would agree to a break, the legal papers show.
The council didn’t respond to what Figueiredo said in open session. The lawsuit was one of three items the council was discussing in a closed session that began after the hour-long meeting. Figueiredo said he had retired to Sacramento. He had previously lived in Humboldt County while running the building and a string of video rental stores. He closed the last one, the Fort Bragg video store, at the end of the summer. That store is now a gaming and computer repair business, started by two Ukiah entrepreneurs with separate shops in Ukiah.
A hearing in the case is scheduled before Judge Clay Brennan October 19, 2023 at Ten Mile Branch, Superior Court Of California.
Here’s the most recent filing in the case:Skunklawsuit