Gearhart’s control of Atascadero

December 1, 2010

Kelly Gearhart

(Editor’s note: This is the second in a four part series about the story of North County developer Kelly Gearhart and his political allies. Part one was Fraud, arson and betrayal.)

By KAREN VELIE

As he built his empire, Kelly Gearhart’s relationships with public officials made it possible for him to skirt building requirements, thereby saving him hundreds of thousands in development costs.

These exceptions risked public safety, cost the county revenue and negatively impacted the availability of low cost housing, according to several sources who spoke to CalCoastNews.

His relationships with community leaders in Atascadero, especially the Atascadero Chamber of Commerce and some City Council members and staff, provided Gearhart with the appearance that he was an upstanding civic-minded citizen when, in fact, he was breaking state and federal laws.

And officials in Atascadero either looked the other way or seemed powerless to stop him.

In numerous interviews and in the reading of countless documents, some obtained by walking door to door asking homeowners for copies of their housing records, CalCoastNews has learned that Gearhart regularly broke laws meant to protect the public and provide housing for the poor.

The image of him as a successful developer helped lure hundreds of local people to invest in his projects.

Kelly Gearhart in his jet

More than 1,200 investors, primarily seniors, invested more than $100 million into Gearhart’s projects, most of the funds are currently unaccounted for because of an alleged Ponzi scheme. In addition, Gearhart filed a personal bankruptcy claiming an estimated $45.1 million in personal debt.

Low Cost Housing

Public officials and employees in Atascadero, under the guise of assisting the poor or providing amenities to the community, made deals with Gearhart and his partners to provide low cost housing, open space and parks as part of their projects’ conditions of approval.

Low-cost housing programs, however, can be exploited by unscrupulous developers, either with the complicity of the governing body or when there are insufficient controls in place.

In 2002, Atascadero finalized a new general plan that rezoned large portions of the city for higher-density housing. Gearhart participated in many of the public meetings leading up to these changes.

The rezoning increased density allowing for more housing in a smaller area. In exchange, developers were required to provide a public benefit, such as setting aside a certain number of houses for the poor, providing open space or small parks.

But Gearhart regularly ignored these low-income requirements and placed family members and friends in the houses, CalCoastNews has learned.

When city staffers became aware of the alleged actions through complaints by the Housing Authority for San Luis Obispo (HASLO), they responded by eliminating the local housing authority oversight.

After discovering Gearhart had placed his mother-in-law into a low-income home in Atascadero, was not certifying home buyers and renters and was objecting to home inspections by HASLO, Carol Hatley, the executive director of HASLO sent an e-mail to the city asking how she should handle the situation. HASLO has a mission to assist the county’s lower-income citizens to secure and maintain long-term housing.

HASLO inspects low-cost housing and income certification for most of San Luis Obispo County. In addition, it owns and manages about 520 low-cost housing units in the county, including three projects in Atascadero.

In response to the e-mail, city officials stopped working with HASLO and instead took over the process of approving and monitoring low and moderate income applicants and properties developers used as part of their conditions of approval.

“They said they would handle it themselves,” Hatley said. “There is such a need. We are the third least affordable community in the nation.”

Kelly Gearhart

Without oversight, Gearhart continued to place his family members in the low cost income restricted homes, according to public records.

In 2004, Gearhart built a small 15-unit subdivision off of Portola Road in Atascadero with two low-cost housing units.

On Feb. 25, 2005, while one of the low cost units, a 996-square-foot, two-bedroom at 8945 Cason Ct., was still in his name, Gearhart was able to procure a $1.4 million line of credit using the home for collateral from San Luis Trust Bank, according to title records.

Two months later, Gearhart sold the deed-restricted, low-cost home to his stepson.

Low-income, deed-restricted properties should have been noted on the maps filed in the county by the title company.

Gearhart, however, used Cuesta Title, a company owned by his former partner in several projects in Atascadero, Tom Murrell.

In an odd twist, Melanie Schneider, an ex-employee of Cuesta Title who was a key person in the majority of Gearhart’s transactions, moved to Colorado with Kelly Gearhart’s brother, Doug Gearhart, shortly after several federal and state agencies began to investigate the builder for fraud.

In 2007, Gearhart purchased the home on Cason Court back from his stepson and began renting out the property, even though his income would not qualify him to purchase a low-cost, deed-restricted housing unit. Despite laws prohibiting Gearhart’s purchase, city officials have not questioned him about this particular purchase.

Meanwhile, Gearhart’s stepson is currently living in the home.

After needy families and the disabled are approved for low-cost rentals, the average wait time is approximately two years.

In the city file for the Cason Court property, the ‘L’ for low income is scratched out and someone hand wrote ‘M’ for moderate income in ink.

With a lack of oversight, the city’s Community Development Department determined properties with specific pricing and income requirements could be manipulated, which increased the price of homes and profits for Gearhart and others dramatically.

Bruce White

For example, in the late 1990s, Gearhart and his former partner, current San Luis Obispo County Planning Commissioner Bruce White, negotiated with the city of Atascadero for the right to build a high density subdivision in exchange for providing three low-cost homes, according to the Agreement for Density Bonus Providing Three Housing Units for Specific Sales Prices.

Reached by e-mail for comment, White did not respond.

Gearhart and White built 18 two-bedroom “efficiency houses” on three small streets off of Traffic Way east of U.S. Highway 101. The non-deed restricted homes were advertised at $139,900 a piece, according to a sales brochure.

The pair sold one of the low-income properties to an acquaintance for approximately the same price as the rest of the homes in the subdivision. Gearhart and White then transferred their 50 percent ownership in each of the remaining two low-cost houses to the other, county records show.

A few months later, Gearhart sold his low-cost home for a non-disclosed amount.

White moved his fiancee into the other home and kept it in his name until he sold it in 2003 for $297,926, even though, according to the agreement, it should have had a maximum sales price of $166,240.

California Health and Safety Code 50093 requires that those who purchase or rent the homes meet very low, low- or moderate-income levels.

City officials arrived at the higher maximum price by determining that the buyers were required to be moderate and that a different formula could be used to determine price than is in the contract.

“Our interpretation was that it could have been valued either way,” said Atascadero Community Development Director Warren Frace. “The buyer and the seller go hand and hand and it was consistent with moderate income.”

White sold the home as a three-bedroom after he tore out the firewall between the home and the garage – a health and safety code violation – and added a closet. The changes transformed the den into a third bedroom, all without getting the required permits.

Generally, illegal room additions are not recognized as part of a home’s resale value.

County records regarding the homes are inconsistent and the property deeds and maps in the county recorders office fail to note that the properties are deed restricted low cost housing units. At least two of the homeowners claim they had no idea they were purchasing a low-cost, deed-restricted home.

Staff members in Atascadero have noted that their documentation of White and Gearhart-built low-cost homes is incomplete.

“I have looked at the file, and the documents are not complete, and I do not see an existing agreement,” Kerry Morgason, associate planner, said in a 2008 e-mail regarding a low-cost home built by Gearhart and White.

Gearhart and White were also able to cut their cost of a surety bond required by their Subdivision Improvement Agreement with the city of Atascadero.

The bonds assure that if a developer fails to follow through on his agreement to provide public improvements such as sewers, streets, storm drains and utilities, the community will have the funds to finish the work.

In the case of White and Gearhart’s Traffic Way subdivision, a surety performance bond required by municipalities before construction begins would have cost the developers about $5,000 in premiums over two years. For more than a decade, most of Gearhart’s projects were not bonded through a licensed surety company, saving Gearhart hundreds of thousands of dollars in premium costs.

Instead, Hurst Financial, Inc. – Gearhart’s lender and one of the subjects of an FBI organized crime investigation – was listed as the surety bondholder even though it was not a bond company. According to the city’s agreement, staff as well as the city attorney were responsible for approving the bond.

Public parks

In 2006, Atascadero city officials agreed to allow Gearhart to put in a high-density subdivision next to Highway 101 on Marchant Avenue in exchange for a park-like area. However, instead of following through on the agreement, Gearhart put an illegal parking lot and a third driveway in place of a park.

After complaints were lodged, public works staffer Joe Chouinard ordered Gearhart to tear out the driveway and transform the area back to a park-like setting, according to the project review.

Gearhart fought the order and was accused of trying to bully some of the city’s community development staff to approve the changes. When the staff refused, their boss, Frace, went to bat for Gearhart and asked the planning commission to approve the changes.

One staffer responded by sending an angry e-mail to Frace in October 2008 in which he notes that Gearhart asked them to not only support his request but to also waive the planning commission authority over the change. The staffer wrote in an e-mail to Frace:

“The point of this e-mail is to remind you (and maybe myself) that city staff does favor Mr. Gearhart and routinely changes policy, skirts the code, allows building without permit, and provides service and preferential treatment that no other developers receive … My position remains firm that staff should present a staff report not influenced by the events of today’s meeting.”

The planning commission denied Gearhart’s request.

Shortly afterwards, Frace approved Gearhart’s request to leave the driveway and parking lot and change it into a park by covering it with artificial turf, according to an Oct. 26, 2006 letter from Frace to Gearhart.

Public safety

Gearhart also has cut corners in regards to utility safety requirements.

Gearhart built a 14-acre, 60-unit development near the Home Depot. Access to the DeAnza Senor Cottage community required that Gearhart build two bridges, one over a creek and the second over railroad tracks, in order to access the property.

After Gearhart built the bridges with only one conduit for utility lines, gas company officials informed him he could not run a gas line in the same conduit with electric lines because of safety issues. In response, Gearhart decided to purchase a large propane tank to supply the subdivision with fuel.

However, California Public Utility codes require that Gearhart had the property monitored for safety through the California Public Utilities Commission’s small operator safety program that includes monitoring such as yearly line safety checks. Gearhart failed to follow through on the state requirements.

Meanwhile, Gearhart’s hard-money lending schemes and questionable business practices have jeopardized the financial well being of hundreds of local seniors.

Rita is a 65-year-old Cambria resident who suffers from multiple sclerosis and can no longer walk. Her husband placed the couple’s savings, $830,000, with Hurst Financial into a Gearhart project prior to his death. He thought he had protected his wife’s future by guaranteeing her financial security.

“I need 24-hour care,” Rita said more than a year ago. “Without my interest and possibly my investment, I’m not going to be able to afford my caregivers and I will have to sell my house. I don’t know where I will end up. I am scared.”

Rita lost her home and is currently living in a low-cost care facility.

Some of Gearhart’s supporters contend that if he had been successful in bringing an Indian casino to Paso Robles, he would have had the funds to cover his debts.


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willie

Over 1,200 people totaling more than $100 MILLION invested into Gearhart’s projects, most of the funds are UNACCOUNTED FOR because of an alleged Ponzi scheme, In addition Gearhart filed a personal bankruptcy claiming an estimated $45.1 million in personal debt.

YOU SAY UNACCOUNTED FOR?

PONZI SCHEME OR NOT, THAT KIND OF MONEY CANNOT BE SIMPLY UNACCOUNTED FOR!

Also Gearhart file for bankrupsy claiming over $45 MILLION in debt (That the Federal Judge determined was bogus!) Besides buying a jet, what did he do with all that money!


willie

Bernie Madoff cut a deal and admitted guilt for a 10 year sentence, in 9 years he will be out and return to his wife that he set up well who was also allowed to keep extraordinary wealthy assets that could only have been bought with victim’s investments. When he gets out, he will NOT be poor and homeless. All arranged by the best attorneys that victim’s money could buy for them.

I suspect Gerhard will run a similar scenario.

$145 million just does not vaporize into thin air, at least not all of it.

Nice looking guy, got a lot of class, very photogenic, they usually are.

I think that 1200 people should team up and each put a few in a few dollars into a pot to hire a professional private investigation firm to document a paper trail to where all that money went, your chances for a partial recovery is better than none as in the Bernie Madoff for lack of evidence and slick attorneys.


willie

As Gearhart know, going to jail or prison is really no big deal to a criminal

Over 30 years ago I was a jailer in LE capacity.

In Gearhart’s experience, he knows that if he goes to prison, he will well taken care of on tax payers expense.

He can watch TV all day if he wants to, he can go the prison library and read books all day if he wants to, he can workout, or he can work a prison job, all the things you hope for and look forward to if you can retire.

Bernie Madoff is serving a 10 year sentence for $100 Billion Ponzi Scheme.

If Gearhart goes to prison for that or less for $140 Million, was it worth it? I doubt if released he will be poor or homeless, nor did he or will he give a damn about the victims and their families including children.

I think of Pretty boy Floyd when I see Gearhart’s photo


willie

FYI

If Gearhart goes to prison (I have my doubts), he will get special treatment.

Because he is former LE, he will be isolated from all the other scumbag prisoners.


willie

When I was a young boy, I was serving my father and uncle (both WWII Vets and businessmen), and joined into their conversations.

My father said to me if someone you trust burns you for $50 it is worth it to find them out.

My uncle said anything beyond that is a con, for example the stock market is a con and if you go into it you could using leverage get lucky (playing short on margin) but remember you are gambling! My uncle added that if someone knew how to get rich why should they tell you how or need you.


roymann

I just read this morning that Barry Madoff was serving 150 years not 10 years.


DashRiprock

Rumor has it he had a serious gambling problem, blew away millions in vegas. alot of central coast hard earned seniors dough, supposedly slated for quality developments, most likely sucked right into vegas coffers


moderator

A number of weird paranoiac parables pruned, please mind replying to your own comments ; the text box at the bottom of the page places your opinion on the top of the page, the reply button makes your opinion appear under that comment. Truly sorry if your comment was removed if you have a question please email me.

topic


cheseburger

Fat chance that your friends are on the up and up anyone and everyone Gearhart came in contact with including his own mother, either got burned or help burn others, you and all Gearhart lover’s will all burn in hell.


fat chance

Im no Gearhart lover in fact I hope the pos goes to prison….i’m sticking up for Frank and Bruce only….mainly because I have had dealing with both and they seem like good guys. If White did do that low rent housing scam then screw him too. Believe me i want to see the whole bunch of thieves go down…..including Jarmin, kennedy, Christenson, Miller and who ever i missed.


Cindy

Chese, I don’t think you should worry about it. Gearhart has enemies that would really do him harm and who have been cheated to a far greater degree than what he took you for $$ wise. I think it is just somebody screwing around that probably doesn’t even know you. There is no reason to threaten you any more than the rest of the people that are angry and vocal about Gearhart, or did you do something that we don’t know about ;) just kidding on the last line there.


cheseburger

Cindy yes, I did do something, a Default Judgment was entered against Gearhart in my case, $73,000 and it pissed Gearhart off because he underestimated me as being a simple minded concrete finisher, every other case he had someone handle, mine he let it go and it came back and bit him on the ass. Default Judgment Entered Nov. 22, 2010 I believe I am the first party to claim any sort of victory, even if I will never get any money back, I will be a sliver under his finger nail until the day he dies or gives back what they took from my family, and then I will still hate him for what he has done to those who have already died from Gearharts fraud!


P.S. Locked and loaded. Back up from three different neighbors and a German Shepard in the back yard that is hungry, if I heard growling and chomping I would check in the mourning!


Mr. Holly

Pismo-I would suggest you find out the facts for real. I’ve known Bruce White for 30+ years and was unaware of any emplyoment at Diablo.

The “allegations” are that Mr. White added a closet to the house without a permit. During your “investigation” could you please find me someone who hasn’t done anything around their home without a permit? ie: replace a hot water heater or ad an additional plug.

I think that Mr. White lent money to Gearhart at the prevailing rate of “hard money” lenders and that was his extent of being “partners” with Gearhart.

The allegations against Mr. White and Mr. Meecham are cheap shots at two very reputable people and it must really be a bad day for “news” if this is all thats available to print.


Flush Flush


Scarlet

I have also looked at advertising here. I found it to be a much cheaper option than print. The Tribune cost for a 2/3 ad in color for one day was about $2,000! But you can get 10,000 views of your ad on this site for between $50 and $170 depending on the placement and duration. What are you wanting: something for free? For the number of people who see your ad, online is known to be your best financial bet.


We all need to support businesses that support CalCoastNews.


Nancimeek

Once this series with the Pe Ji Ho ta casino/ Attorney Grigger Jones involvement and Heritage bank Gearhart scandal goes public, yeah your advertising dollars will have been well spent. tell everyone you know to buy ads because this is going to be a big story


centralcoastcoyote

Lets hear the heavy stuff, this is a blog and Im sure theres some of us that can help piece the puzzle together.


cheseburger

Somebody got one in on the good old boy, Default Judgment Entered Against Kelly V. Gearhart on November 22, 2010 three years after he had been served, two months prior to his bankruptcy filing, Gearhart never answered the complaint and NOW he want’s more time, hit the red for more time the green for letting the judgment stand. This guy who got the judgment is praying the Paso Court doesn’t buy into Gearhart’s lies again, seems to me after failing to answer the complaint in the first place, the fraudulent Federal Bankruptcy, then not answering the complaint after the bankruptcy was thrown out, that he very well new was in place,,,,,,,$$$$$$$$$$$

the DEFAULT JUDGMENT SHOULD STAND!


Paperboys

You’re all wrong about the Atascadero News. They were sold by the Porters in 2003 to News Media Corp. which owns a string of weekly papers across the country, including the King City Rustler, Soledad Bee, Watsonville Pajaronian and more. Here’s an excerpt from their web site:


About the Atascadero News

The Atascadero News was founded in 1916 by E.G. Lewis and just celebrated its 90-year anniversary. For more than 50 years the Porter family published the newspaper before selling to News Media Corp. in 2003.”

See: http://www.newsmediacorporation.com/


Now, that doesn’t mean the Porters weren’t part of the mutual masterbation society in A-town that allowed Gearhart and his cronies to run amok…


Nancimeek

Karen Velie is doing your area a great service Get teh word out get your friends and others to advertise here because from what I have seen in the past with web sites THIS IS GOING TO BE BIG and will get a lot of publicity over the next several months Much like Wikileaks. If I had something to advertise in your area this is where I would go And I know about adverising in your area because I did it for years when I worked for the Signature theaters adn the Centruy theatre chains placing the ads on the screen.


KatieEvans

I have my suspicions that this series will go national in the near future. There will be much rangeling at that time. CCN- I await your next two sequels, I believe that you’re abut to be a big national hit.


danika

I checked into advertising with CCN and found them to be very expensive in this economy. I do hope they get the recognition deserved. I applaud them.


Dave

Expensive?????? You should talk to Karen directly if you have concerns about ad rates.


danika

Dave, I did. Got an email to prove it. I think the rates are a bit too high for this economy. Perhaps I was misquoted??? Again, I hope CCN gets the recognition deserved. I find the site informative and post regularly.


dhgscw

The Porters have owner or been

involved in the Atascadero News since 1949. For some historical

back ground click the link below.


http://www.atascaderonews.com/V2_news_articles.php?heading=0&page=&story_id=218