–For Immediate Release—
Locke, CA — The management association responsible for the maintenance and historical preservation of the Delta town of Locke, California, has won a nearly five- year lawsuit over resident Martha Esch and co-defendant Dona LeBlanc, and will be able to reclaim a historic building in the town for preservation purposes. The Lock Historic District, where the property at issue stands, was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1990.
On February 19, 2016, the Locke Management Association (LMA) prevailed on summary judgment after being forced to sue and endure five years of litigation to protect its right of first refusal. The suit resulted when Esch bought the historical building at issue from LeBlanc without giving the LMA first right of refusal as required in their bylaws and covenants, conditions, and restrictions.
Chinese workers who were responsible for developing the farmland founded Locke in 1915. The town they established is the only standing rural Chinese town in the United States built exclusively by Chinese people for themselves at the time established. Thousands of visitors come annually to step back in time and walk through a town that looks much like it did 100 years ago.
The judge’s ruling frees the townspeople to continue preserving Locke as an important historic landmark and enables the LMA to buy back the building, which in the peak of Locke’s heyday, was a gambling hall. The years of lawsuits and counter lawsuits have drained the LMA’s pockets and energy. Meanwhile Esch has occupied the building and operated an art gallery on the premises.
“After five years, it’s nice to exhale and get back to the work we’ve been waiting to do all this time,” said Russell Ooms, president of the LMA. “The suits cost the town $100,000 — money that could have been spent on upkeep and preservation.” Members of the LMA board, a governmental body set up by the County of Sacramento in 2003, receive no compensation for their long hours of work.
The court ruling states that, without the LMA’s knowledge, the defendants began negotiations for the building around mid-January of 2011, with LeBlanc as the prospective seller of the property. Shortly thereafter Esch signed a formal offer to purchase it. The agreement contained an all cash offer for $21,000, the price Esch paid LeBlanc. But “the contract contained no contingency for the LMA to consider its right of first refusal,” the court ruling said. Defendant Esch was aware of the LMA
right of first refusal “for some time” prior to closing escrow, and admitted to actually reading them prior to closing escrow.
In February of 2011, counsel for LeBlanc notified the LMA too late in the process of the sale. The LMA did vote to exercise its right of first refusal and notified interested parties who had a right to purchase the property, as required in its bylaws and the Covenants, Conditions and Restrictions. The lists for notification include former Chinese residents, their descendants and ascendants as well as other interested parties added to the list. The court document shows that Esch, in attendance at that meeting, closed on the sale two weeks later, “with personal knowledge of the LMA’s rights of first refusal….” The judge found that Esch had exercised “willful disregard.”
In public and in the press, Esch has questioned the authenticity of Locke as a Chinese-founded town and belittled the importance of much beloved Chinese elder Connie King, one of the last longtime inhabitants. “Connie King, would be thrilled that Ms. Esch has been put into her rightful place with Sacramento Superior Court Judge David I. Brown’s words,” said resident James Motlow. Motlow spent years recording the last Chinese residents on camera. “The judge said, (The evidence) ‘is insufficient to establish that Esch acted legally or ethically.’ The Locke Management Association has acted legally and ethically and is working everyday to preserve everything that Connie King fought for,” Motlow said.
The ruling said Esch must now let the LMA have the building on the same terms as her initial real estate purchase of $21,000.
Note to Editors: We are happy to provide more information on this lawsuit — elaborate on what impact the Locke Management Association’s success has on the town of Locke and its people, or answer any other questions. Please contact: Gregory P. Wayland, Esq.
The Locke Management Association is a California non-profit mutual benefit corporation. Its purpose as stated in its bylaws is to improve the well-being of Locke, preserve the town’s cultural and historical integrity, and manage the town. Its board members include representatives from government and other agencies and groups, and town building owners, both Chinese and non-Chinese. No board members are compensated.