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Stalled development spurs debate

A"road-to-nowhere" project in Weed, Calif., has raised questions about a Medford City Council candidate's background — but also has stirred up accusations of dirty politics, shady business dealings and "psycho behavior."

Daniel Bunn Jr., a property manager who is running unopposed in Ward 4, has been involved in a lengthy legal battle over ownership of 548 acres just south of Weed near Interstate 5. He and his partners have won every court case so far in a land deal that has entangled another council candidate, Curt Ankerberg, who co-signed a loan to one of the plaintiffs suing Bunn and his partners.

The partners benefited from a $2 million matching federal grant to build roads for the Frontgate Development, a residential subdivision and recreational vehicle park to be built on the property. The partnership involves Jackson County residents Reginald Breeze, Daniel Bunn Sr. and his two sons, Daniel Jr. and Eric Bunn.

However, the road is blocked because the development stalled during the economic downturn.

Ankerberg, who is running against Dick Gordon in Ward 1, said the city can ill afford another council member who supports projects with taxpayer dollars that don't live up to their initial billing.

He cited the failed Bella Vita housing project around the Evergreen parking garage on West Main Street as a local example.

Ankerberg said the Frontgate project took advantage of taxpayer money, but never followed through with plans for a housing development.

"It's a road to nowhere," he said.

Bunn, 25, said he was in high school when his family, acting as a silent partner with Breeze, negotiated to purchase the property, so he wasn't aware of all the details at the time.

Once the economy turns around, Bunn said his partners intend to start building houses on the Weed property, which is next to the Crystal Geyser plant.

"It's not like the money is lost," he said. "Eventually that development will go through, and it will be good for the city."

He said he doesn't understand why Ankerberg is raising this as an issue since he isn't running against him, and since court cases have supported his partners' actions.

"It's the ugly side of politics," Bunn said.

He said he was alarmed at an anonymous letter sent several months ago that threatened to expose his business dealings if he ran for office. He said he forwarded the email to Medford police and suspected it was sent by Ankerberg because of the tone of the letter.

Police Deputy Chief Tim Doney said his department has kept the letter on file, but didn't find enough of a threat to conduct an investigation.

The letter, which doesn't have a date and is signed only as "A concerned citizen," states, "You and your partners reneged on your promise and ripped off the city of Weed for $2 million. Should you decide to run for public office, then you had better be prepared to discuss your actions in detail. It will be an issue — guaranteed."

Ankerberg denied sending the letter, brushing it off as a distraction from the bigger issue of Bunn's involvement in a failed project.

Ankerberg said he's not buying the notion that Bunn was too young to be aware of the federal grant four years ago.

"He was an adult," Ankerberg said.

Bunn and his partners have won or settled lawsuits filed by Jackson County residents James Bennett and Gregory Walkup, two partners who formerly owned the Weed acreage. The main dispute started when a title company report left out two parcels when the transaction closed.

On July 16, 2009, Jackson County Circuit Judge Philip Arnold ruled that Walkup and Bennett took advantage of the title company error and didn't disclose it. Arnold said the error was either a mistake on the part of the title company or that it suggested some kind of "manipulation" occurred in deleting the two parcels.

Arnold stated that "Mr. Walkup presented obviously false and evasive testimony."

Arnold ruled that the two parcels belong to Breeze and the Bunn family.

In a Nov. 12, 2010, letter sent by Walkup to the Oregon Real Estate Agency, Walkup acknowledged that he knew the two parcels were left off the final title report: "Also, it is true, as Judge Arnold said after the transaction closed, Jim and I did our best to conceal the fact that we still owned the two parcels. I feel bad about being part of this deception. I have apologized to Mr. Breeze and his partners."

Breeze said the $2 million federal grant helped build roads, street lights and sidewalks in the Frontgate development, but also improved streets outside the development, including to the Crystal Geyser plant. Breeze said Frontgate contributed land to the project and more than $700,000 in cash.

Breeze said he believes Ankerberg's real issue is that Ankerberg lent Walkup money to continue his lawsuit against the Frontgate partners and is hoping to get it back.

Breeze said Ankerberg's claims are completely unfounded, saying the injured parties in this situation are himself and the Bunns.

"This is total B.S.," he said.

Breeze said he has heard Ankerberg describe various conspiracy theories that amount to "psycho behavior" about how government and business work in Medford.

Ankerberg's actions during his 2010 bid for City Council prompted the Jackson County clerk to file a criminal complaint against him, but the complaint did not result in charges.

Walker alleged Ankerberg became threatening and verbally abusive in June 2010 during the application process after several of the signatures he collected for the November ballot were deemed invalid.

"Curt Ankerberg is a joke," Breeze stated in an email. "The guy is an idiot. Thank God he'll never be elected, but it would be entertaining."

Ankerberg said Breeze wants to shift the story away from the Weed property to discussions about Ankerberg's own involvement in financing the lawsuit.

"What does that have to do with Reginald Breeze and his partners defrauding the city of Weed for $2 million?" he said. "I am a witness to this crime."

Ankerberg produced a 2003 letter from Breeze to Walkup approving financing for an RV resort on the Frontgate property, conditional on obtaining a federal grant and other factors. But Breeze never followed through with the project, Ankerberg said.

Breeze said he didn't renege on any loan, citing the fact that Frontgate won 100 percent of the litigation brought on by its opponents. "That's why we were awarded the judgments," he said. "Frontgate won on all points."

Responding to Breeze's comment about him being a "joke," Ankerberg said, "I'm not going to get into a spitting contest with Reg Breeze."

He added, "He wouldn't call me a psycho to my face because he knows what would happen."

Ankerberg said he co-signed a $30,000 loan after Walkup told him he would have to drop the suit against Breeze because he's running out of money. The loan was made in March 2010 when the case went to Superior Court in Siskiyou County, Calif.

He said Walkup promised him half the proceeds of the lawsuit if he was successful, but then Walkup eventually settled with Breeze. Ankerberg said his loan wasn't repaid, however.

"I got screwed," Ankerberg said. "I am still on the hook."

Bennett, who owns Brookside Inn and Suites in White City (formerly La Quinta), said he purchased the Weed property in the 1990s.

He said he entered into an agreement with Breeze to help develop the property. But Bennett said he made a mistake by only getting a handshake agreement from Breeze.

"I did not get anything in writing," he said. Breeze, however, said there was no handshake deal.

Bennett, who is also involved in a bankruptcy, said he's confident that if Breeze hadn't cut him out of the deal, some of the development could have occurred on the property, helping the local economy.

"What upsets me is that people in Weed could have had a job," he said.

Weed Finance Director Kelly McKinnis said the city did receive a federal grant in excess of $2 million to build roads and other improvements to spur development within the project area.

"The road — it doesn't go anywhere," he said.

He said it is blocked primarily to prevent 18-wheelers from using and damaging the road, which is near a truck stop.

The property owners told the city that if the road system was built, they would be able to develop the property, he said.

"We're not pleased that they didn't push forward and do anything," he said. "But with the economy, I can't blame them."

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476, or email dmann@mailtribune.com.

This unfinished road near the Interstate 5 interchange south of Weed, Calif., has raised questions in a Medford City Council election. A development planned for the area was postponed during the economic downturn. - Mail Tribune / Jamie Lusch