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Judge Refuses to Halt Seizure of Santa Cruz Island Ranch for Park

TIMES STAFF WRITER

In a move that allows completion of Channel Islands National Park, a Los Angeles federal judge on Friday refused to halt government seizure next week of a historic Santa Cruz Island sheep ranch by the National Park Service.

U.S. District Judge George H. King denied the request of Oxnard attorney Francis Gherini, whose great-grandfather settled the rugged 6,300-acre ranch, to block Park Service takeover because the agency has not yet paid him for his land.

In denying the temporary injunction, King said he had no doubt that the government will eventually pay Gherini--who has refused an offer of $2.8 million--a fair price for his one-fourth share of Gherini Ranch.

But Gherini’s attorney, Charles Cummings, said his 82-year-old client is on dialysis from kidney problems and “will never live to see the money.”

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It could be years, Gherini’s lawyers said, before the government works through its procedures to set the fair market value of Gherini’s land, and Congress pays the money.

The judge’s ruling allows the Park Service to follow through on its plan to seize the ranch, the eastern 10% of Santa Cruz Island, on Monday.

And park officials say the property, just 20 miles off the Ventura County coast, figures to become the hub of activity in the five-island national park, drawing tens of thousands of hikers and campers each year as current $15 landing fees and $25 camping fees are eliminated.

“Pending any other eleventh-hour legal moves, we’ll commence normal park operations on Monday,” said Jack Fitzgerald, chief ranger at the national park. “This is a good and historic day, and we look forward to serving the public.”

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Fitzgerald said the judge’s ruling was a relief after 17 years of trying to complete Southern California’s first national park.

“What Congress intended has finally happened,” he said. “The park was authorized on March 5, 1980, and it has taken to Feb. 10, 1997, to complete.”

Reached Friday evening, Gherini said he was not sure what legal options remain for him. “I don’t know whether there is any appeal,” he said.

Under the government’s seizure plan, Gherini’s hunting concessionaire and contractors who run kayak, bed-and-breakfast and helicopter tours must cease Monday. The island’s four caretakers will have 90 days to relocate.

While Gherini has refused to sell his one-fourth interest in the ranch to the government, the park service has acquired the shares of three other Gherini siblings since 1990 for about $12 million.

Times staff writer Mike Krikorian contributed to this story.


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