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In 1903, Native Americans who had occupied Warner Hot Springs and surrounding land for many generations were forced by the United States to evacuate in a three-day trek called the Trail of Tears. But a century later, the tribe was prospering and agreed to buy the Warner property back, intending to occupy it in August. It hasn’t happened. It seems there is a Paper Trail of Tears delaying the closing of escrow and the triumphant return.

The relatively small Cupeño tribe was forced by American authorities to depart Warner, in the foothills of Palomar Mountain, and join the Luiseño Indians — the first time two separate Indian tribes were forcefully united on one reservation. They still live on 12,273 acres near Palomar Mountain as the Pala Band of Mission Indians.

And they have enjoyed the last laugh. They have a thriving casino and lease property to a company that operates a motocross raceway on tribal land. Profits from the casino permitted them to agree to pay $20.5 million last year for Warner Springs Ranch, near the backcountry crossroads of Warner Springs. The membership-owned resort has 240 cottages, a golf course, three pools, tennis courts, horseback-riding facilities, exercise rooms — and longtime chronic financial problems complicated by bitter divisions among the owners.

The Pala Indians will probably take over Warner Springs Ranch eventually because they already own almost 15 percent of it, having bought out some owners in individual deals. They intend to spend money refurbishing it and welcome the public, particularly the original members. But delaying the final purchase and occupancy are mountains of paperwork headaches: completion of 2452 title searches; elimination of liens, leases, subleases, encroachments, and easements that the Indians want removed; and resolution of one nettlesome lawsuit. The Pala Band has no idea when its members will be able to occupy Warner Springs Ranch, says spokesman Doug Elmets.

“Sometimes deeds are in the wrong name, there has been a death of a spouse, federal tax liens — those types of things occurred over 25 years,” says Jim Stilwell, general manager of the ranch. And clearing away easements and liens is no picnic.

The United States has a long and ugly history of war with Native Americans. Now, the Native Americans are hoping for peace — among the white members of Warner, who seemingly can’t stop warring among themselves.

The ranch opened in the early 1980s with the intention of being a private club owned by 2000 members. But membership reached about 1200 at the peak. Unfortunately, “Owners [have been] keeping bad records,” says Stilwell. For example, the ranch didn’t foreclose on Betty Broderick, whose murder of her husband dominated news in the early 1990s, until well after she was in prison.

The ranch is an hour and a half from San Diego and two hours from Los Angeles. As Warner Springs Ranch aged, those who lived farther away and may have inherited their ownerships began agitating for the facility to be sold. They are paying $382 a month plus occasional special assessments, and many don’t go there at all. But a group who live closer, particularly at Los Tules, a subdivision that used to be part of the ranch, use the ranch frequently and have fought a sale to the Pala Band — recruiting other potential buyers who ultimately did not have the means to do the deal.

The ranch’s board was “hijacked by a cabal of self-serving individuals,” says Patrick Roche, an owner who has been pressing for several years for a sale to the Pala Band. The so-called Los Tules group “corrupted the deal by putting in poison pills,” he charges. (In corporate parlance, a poison pill is a defensive strategy to thwart an outside takeover.) Roche points to an easement across the property that last year was granted to a developer who wants to build homes near Warner Springs Ranch but can’t do so without a road through ranch property. Pala wants that easement removed. That and other similar moves throw up roadblocks to the deal’s consummation, say those pushing for a sale to the Pala Band. Because of such uncertainty, one-third of the members stopped paying dues this fall, says Roche, as the ranch laid off half its staff, now down to 80.

In November of last year, in a procedure called the assent process, two-thirds of members agreed to sell the ranch. But John Gubler filed suit in North County Superior Court, saying the vote count was not valid. Gubler says the court should be ruling on his suit soon. “The reason for our lawsuit is to protect and preserve this unique property from destruction by a possible casino,” he says. “There are many owners who do not agree with the sale of this property.”

The casino rumor is a canard, says Pala. Last year, Pala assured owners that it would not build a casino at Warner. But the sales contract indicates “there will be no casinos as long as it is illegal and for ten years,” says Stilwell, the ranch’s general manager.

To many at the ranch, this sounds as if the Indians are hedging their bet. Not so, ripostes Pala spokesman Elmets. “The tribe has absolutely no intention of ever building a casino at Warner Springs,” he says. The tribe has a casino 38 miles away, and Warner is considered sacred ground. “The seller wanted us to put in the clause that no casino would be built there for ten years.”

Why did Warner’s board insist on that? The owners who want a sale think it was a scare tactic — still another poison pill, says Roche.

In April of last year, a prominent law firm recommended that the quickest way to work out the paperwork snarls would be to negotiate a sales agreement and then go bankrupt. The court could sort things out more rapidly. “It would have been a quicker and more efficient way of obtaining clear titles,” says owner Greg Maizlish. But the bankruptcy route was not chosen. Maizlish says that, in his opinion, some owners “fundamentally don’t want to sell to the Indians. There is no question in my mind that part of the motivation…is racist.”

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Cabernetcounsel Nov. 24, 2010 @ 2:56 a.m.

Jim Stilwell didn't tell Don Bauder how deeply entrenched he and his family are in the Los Tules community; from his child attending the local school to searching for rental property in the area in anticipation of the Pala sale and his recording of the illegal easement (on behalf of a local developer) last year. With all due respect to him, in my opinion, his opinion regarding the influence of the "Los Tules cabal" lacks credibility. Likewise, Richard Bye reveals his sense of himself in referring to a "chief executive" of the Board of Directors. Nearly two years ago, he was the fourth highest vote getter in a Board recall election to sell the Ranch. His recall campaign slogan called for the Board to "stop playing Board games." Indeed, in the opinion of many and perhaps most Owners, it is long past time for Bye to do so by to wrapping up his tenure, stopping the wasteful spending of other people's money and returning to his telemarketer retirement post haste by closing escrow as soon as possible.


Don Bauder Nov. 24, 2010 @ 3:17 p.m.

You aren't the first to make such statements on Stilwell and Bye, along with others. I heard several such statements. Best, Don Bauder


RanchownerAdvocate Nov. 24, 2010 @ 10:25 a.m.


Mr. Bye has been recently telling various Owners the following:

  1. The sale could take another year...

  2. He is talking to other "buyers" - while WSRA is in a binding purchase agreement and escrow with the Pala Band of Mission Indians.

  3. If you stop paying dues (as so many Owners have), then what you owe will be deducted from your sales proceeds.

Bye has not seen the courtesy to let ALL Owners know of # 3 above... Sadly - his words and actions contradict one another.

Mr. Stilwell also failed to disclose his nefarious efforts to steal an investor away, and undercut the assent process with his own sleazy "management buyout plan" several months before escrow opened with Pala. Not enough time to go into those Los Tuleans who supported USEDC/Callaway and Bill Johnson as "buyers" of WSR Ranch.

Someday there will be a book written about the actions taken by those whose actions were so deplorable, so prejudiced, and against all common sense and human decency.

Presently tho Owners are still hemorrhaging nearly $400,000 per month to subsidize a poorly managed, ill kept up resort. The irony of Cabernetcounel's comments are that had WSRA followed expert legal advice and pursued a bankruptcy filing the Ranch would have been sold more than a year ago...

How logical is it to keep nearly $5 million dollars in your pocket versus subsidizing a failed business model - one that has been incompetently managed and run for years?

Stay tuned - we are praying and hoping that right prevails and WS Ranch is transferred to the Pala Band of Mission Indians before long. Pala has been waiting nearly 107 years for their ancestral land, and their patience and perseverance is to be commended.

I recommend that all "Readers" plan on visiting WS Ranch after Pala restores the property and spritually cleanses the land. The Pala Band of Mission Indians are the natural stewards to "Preserve the Legacy of the Land" for all of us - and future generations yet to be born.


Don Bauder Nov. 24, 2010 @ 3:21 p.m.

There have already been a couple of other potential buyers who were brought forward. None had the financial muscle to do the deal. If Bye is trying to find another buyer, then what he told me has to be called into question. Best, Don Bauder


SurfPuppy619 Nov. 24, 2010 @ 4:58 p.m.

The casino rumor is a canard, says Pala. Last year, Pala assured owners that it would not build a casino at Warner. But the sales contract indicates “there will be no casinos as long as it is illegal and for ten years,” says Stilwell, the ranch’s general manager.

To many at the ranch, this sounds as if the Indians are hedging their bet. Not so, ripostes Pala spokesman Elmets. “The tribe has absolutely no intention of ever building a casino at Warner Springs,” he says.

If they were not going to build a casino they would record that fact in their purchase agreement and then CC&R's. It is that simple.

The fact that they are not-or are qualifying it to 10 years-tells me they will build a casino.

One thing is for sure-the place is one of the most mismanaged busiensses I have ever seen.

The clowns in charge should be tossed out on their cans, and if they won't go on their own then they should sue them to get them tossed out.


Don Bauder Nov. 25, 2010 @ 1:19 p.m.

Pala has a casino only 38 miles away and there is another casino near Warner. The tribe argues that Warner is sacred land and would never be a suitable setting for a casino. We'll see. Best, Don Bauder


Don Bauder Nov. 27, 2010 @ 4:31 p.m.

There are owners of Warner who agree with you. Best, Don Bauder


esteban8 Nov. 25, 2010 @ 5:46 a.m.

Don, thank you for the excellent article. I have been a quiet WSR owner for 20+ years, diligently paying my monthly assessments until this fall. It has become clear that the place is being kept open for the benefit of the few owners that continue to use it. The same ones who negotiated the ten year deal with Pala (Pala agreed to operate the ranch in the manner that those owners insisted for the next ten years). The current Board and management are totally self-serving; they have abandoned any pretense of fiduciary duty. Unfortunately, there is little doubt that these actions will spawn more lawsuits in the future.


Don Bauder Nov. 25, 2010 @ 1:21 p.m.

More lawsuits would not surprise me. Best, Don Bauder


RanchownerAdvocate Nov. 27, 2010 @ 9:04 p.m.

I recently heard from an Owner that Richard Bye encouraged the Owner to file a small claims action against Mr. Gubler. Mr. Bye still perpetrates his unethical actions against Owners, and should check with legal counsel (Gordon & Rees) before providing ill thought out legal advice as Board President on how to attack Mr. Gubler.

If Bye had an ounce of common sense WSRA would not be in the position it is today. By acting as Jon Goldenbaum and Jim Stilwell's puppet Richard Bye has done a tremendous disservice to Owners and the Public over the past 21 months.

The Association has not had an Annual Meeting with a Board quorum present since 2008, and this year (2010) there was no effort to have an Annual Meeting or Election of Directors... The cabal must have tired of rigging elections and decided it was easier to become a third world junta!

Jim Stilwell recently testified under oath (Vista Courthouse) that he violated the Ranch governing documents - and failed to provide "Due Process" to an Owner (David Barrett). Not the first time for the WSRA Board and Management to violate Ranch CC&R's... Instead of disciplining Jim Stilwell - WSRA spent thousands more challenging Mr. Barrett's small claims win and lost on appeal!!

esteban8 was spot on with several points made above... One has to ask if those in this self serving cabal have any integrity or conscience?

The situation at Warner Springs Ranch is crying out for transparency and closure at the same time!


Don Bauder Nov. 28, 2010 @ 10:34 a.m.

I am aware of Barrett's complaint. Best, Don Bauder


warners1986 Nov. 29, 2010 @ 10:46 a.m.

Nothing has changed with respect to the warring factions within the WSR ownership. It appears that those who are disgruntled continue to voice their hatred for the ranch management because things have not gone their way.

I believe we are closer than ever to resolving and selling WSR to the Pala Band of Mission Indians. WSR is a very special place that begs to be managed by a focussed and stable group. The WSR ownership concept was an experiment that didn’t work, like many other homeowner associations. I, as many, have been a faithful steward of WSR for more than 25 years. I have also worked on the ranch for nearly 23 years. I have seen much first hand and have my own opinions about how the ranch was managed.

These days it is painful to continue paying the $382 per month. But I have a commitment and do not believe anyone will benefit if WSR falls into default or total disrepair. I have to ask those who made their negative comments in the above article whether they are faithful dues paying owners making sure our beloved ranch is cared for during this process.

The sale is a messy work in process. The Title Company has already contacted me twice with requirements to ensure clean title. Many of us have chosen to be part of the solution, and it is most encouraging that the Palas are also willing to work through this process with us.

Think for a moment: Is this not the real path to “peace” between all, laying down our differences and working through the problems in order to sell to the most interested and capable stewards, to bring to a close this chapter of dysfunction on the ranch.

P.S. Most blogs post the most recent comments first????


Don Bauder Dec. 1, 2010 @ 6:45 a.m.

Certainly, a large group hopes that Warner will be sold to Pala. Best, Don Bauder


RanchownerAdvocate Nov. 29, 2010 @ 11:45 a.m.

Warners1986 has posted some thoughtful views, and I would be interested in hearing firsthand some of his/her opinions on how the Ranch was managed during the last 23 years of his/her employment on the property.

The sale is a "messy process" because it has been mismanaged by self serving individuals. I recommend that anyone interested in getting all the facts take the time to read the Douglas Wilson Company's report from 2006/2007. The "interested and capable stewards" warners1986 refers to were ready, willing and able to purchase the ranch over three years ago.

One needs to ask why Owners, and everyone associated with WS Ranch, are still dealing with the dissolution of the Ownership some three years later? Why was the Sales Oversight Committee dissolved in 2009?

Perhaps these and other questions will never be answered by those who fear transparency and disclosure...

Time will tell...

Have a Happy Holiday Season!


Don Bauder Dec. 1, 2010 @ 6:47 a.m.

Yes, that Douglas Wilson report makes interesting reading. Best, Don Bauder


whitehorse Nov. 29, 2010 @ 3:11 p.m.

We are not amused by the anctics of the people in charge of handling the sale to the Pala's. At some point it seemed to not require a majority vote to make any changes or decisions that effected us as owners. Who voted to suspend the annual meeting? I thought this was a reqirement to continue operating a business of this nature.

Another thought, if the potential buyer wants to eliminate the easement required by the developer to effectively utilize their property for future building, what stake does the developer have in preventing the sale to the Pala Tribe?


Don Bauder Dec. 1, 2010 @ 6:49 a.m.

Yours is an interesting question. Pala wants the easement removed. Does the developer have any standing to fight? I do not know. Best, Don Bauder


alberta Dec. 2, 2010 @ 10:21 a.m.

I am a member at Warner Springs and I live in Los Tules. I very much want to sell Warners to the Pala Indians, and I am waiting for escrow to close, the sooner the better.


Don Bauder Dec. 2, 2010 @ 10:49 a.m.

You have a good attitude. I hope your neighbors feel the same way. Best, Don Bauder


SurfPuppy619 Dec. 2, 2010 @ 1:08 p.m.

alberta-explain your reasoning for this-it iwll improve the HOA, or gove you better service?


Don Bauder Dec. 2, 2010 @ 9:14 p.m.

Maybe Alberta feels Pala has the resources and the spirit to run the ranch better than anybody else. Besides, at this point, there is nobody else. Previous candidates did not measure up financially. Best, Don Bauder


uncleamo Dec. 7, 2010 @ 3:45 p.m.

The Pala Indians will definitely take better care of the property than the current mis-management.

As far as a casino goes, I believe the current gambling compact does not allow casinos to be built on land not already held in trust by a tribe. So, by law they can't build a casino. I'm not a fan of casinos, but I'm less of a fan of ineptude and back room dealings such as the Jim Stillwell's signing of the easment to a developer in the middle of a sale.

I don't believe that the Board or the Ranch Mgr. are authorized by the CC&R's to sell or convey any part of the property without a vote in assent by 2/3 of the ownership. The deed only mentions the Ranch Owner's Association anwway, not the rest of the owners.


Don Bauder Dec. 7, 2010 @ 10:18 p.m.

I agree that Pala will take care of the place more professionally. The tribe says it has no intention of putting a casino on the property. It couldn't under current law, but laws can be changed. But Warner is not a good casino location, and Pala says it is sacred ground. Best, Don Bauder


RanchownerAdvocate Dec. 9, 2010 @ 1:06 p.m.


Are you happy to know that a dysfunctional Board and Management continue to keep a deteriorating, physically unsafe resort running on your backs and dues of nearly $400,000 per month?

The Ranch GM is happy. Housing, benefits, salary, food, drink and what not all being enjoyed. Happy Holidays for that person!! On the backs, and out of the pocketbooks of Owners who have been lied to, deceived and abused for too many years.

I personally think the last months and years of the "Curse" on the land is being played out through individuals who have breached all semblance of "Fiduciary Duty" to Owners.

From Jon Goldenbaum, David Lowe and Jim Stilwell placing an illegal lien on the Ranch to self serving decision making - the "Curse" is clearly seen as being in the lives and actions of those who advance their personal wants and desires.

Truly Pathetic. Now they are placing liens and foreclosing on Owners who have carried the ranch for years - even decades. No amount of rationalizing or covering up can hide the sleaze factor at play...

The key question is when will Owners initiate a class action lawsuit and recover the tens of millions of dollars from the guilty parties.

Stay tuned.

Stay healthy.


Don Bauder Dec. 9, 2010 @ 3:16 p.m.

From the tone of your post, it sounds like some owners will do what you suggest: file a suit against those they believe are not acting in owners' interests. Best, Don Bauder


esteban8 Dec. 14, 2010 @ 5:17 a.m.

I'm in...sign me up, let's file this class action lawsuit to shut down the Ranch and complete the sale. I will be glad to contribute to whatever it takes to stop this madness. Pala has announced that they will close the Ranch for much needed repairs after the close of escrow, which is clearly a waiver of the contract requirement that the Ranch be turned over as an operating business. Shut it down NOW. Stop the bleeding, the Ranch has been bankrupt for years.


Don Bauder Dec. 14, 2010 @ 11:38 a.m.

I am sure you know the right people to contact if you want to see such a suit filed. Best, Don Bauder


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