GHERINI, Francis

From Islapedia
Francis Gherini, Santa Cruz Island
Francis Gherini, John Gherini (nephew of Francis),
and Al Vail on Santa Cruz Island May 3, 1995

GHERINI, Francis (1914-1999) [SS# 562-52-0612], Oxnard attorney and great grandson of Justinian Caire. He was the last of five children born to Maria Caire Rossi (1883-1960) and Ambrose Gherini (1878-1952). Francis Gherini married Inez Denby (1915-1999) and they had three children:

  • Francis Denby “Denny” Gherini (b. 1942) = [1969] Frances A. Ley
  • Catherin M. Gherini [Beauclair] (b. 1945) = [1968] John P. Beauclair
  • Andrea Maria Gherini (b. 1957) = [1984] Brad V. Gallant

Francis inherited a 25% undivided interest in the east end of Santa Cruz Island through his father, Ambrose Gherini. His three sibings owned the other 75%. With the creation of Channel Islands National Park in 1980, the three siblings willingly sold their island interests to the federal government. Francis Gherini was not a willing seller; his island interest was ultimately condemned by congress and the sale forced.

Francis Gherini died on April 28, 1999, not long after winning his lawsuit against the federal government. His wife, Inez, died less than a month later, on May 22, 1999.

  • Gherini, Francis . A Family and an Island Adapted from a talk given by Francis Gherini to his friends at A Convocation of the North American Society for Sitting under Walnut Trees, April 8, 1991. Edited by Linley Kroll and published for the 1996 Annual Advisory Council Meeting, Santa Cruz Island Foundation, December 7, 1996, Santa Barbara. Pasadena: Castle Press, 1996. Pictorial wraps. 5-1/4 x 7-1/4 inches. 14 pages. Signed: Tony Kroll Dec. 7, '96; Lin Kroll; Francis Gherini 12/7/96; Andrea Gherini 12/7/96. Cover photograph of Scorpion Ranch, Santa Cruz Island. Interior photograph of Francis Gherini at Scorpion Ranch, 1995. The author is the great grandson of Justinian Caire.
[original in SCIF archives] [ex-lib. M. D. Daily]

In the News~

February 19, 1995 [VCS]: “Carving up Santa Cruz Island. Park Service, Oxnard Attorney Duel Over Use of Property. It's been a tense and awkward marriage for the National Park Service and Oxnard attorneyFrancis Gherini—unlikely partners in a slice of paradise 20 miles off the coast of Ventura. They both hold an undivided interest in the east end of Santa Cruz Island, an arrangement forged over the years as Gherini refused to sell his share of the family ranch. That is to say, they co-own each rock, tree and bush. The trouble is this odd couple of land barons have widely different ideas on how to manage the historic adobe ranch houses at Scorpion Anchorage and Smuggler's Cove, or the 6,264 acres of undeveloped rolling hills in-between. “The Park service was authorized to obtain my property quite a few years ago,” said the Oxnard octogenarian, the lone hold out of the ranching family that owned the island for 110 years. “I'm waiting patiently for them to do so.” Park officials are reviewing their third appraisal of the property, hoping it will finally meet Gherini's price so they can snatch up the last link in the five-island national park. Not only are they itching to complete Southern California's first national park, they desperately want to fulfill their mission to restore the island's natural habitat. That would begin with removing the peacocks, the wild horses, the rooting pigs and the thousands of feral sheep that have grazed so heavily they have accelerated the island's erosion. “There is virtually no vegetation left on the island ranch,” said Tim Setnicka, assistant superintendent of the Channel Islands National Park. “The land is on intensive care and the health costs continue to mount up.” Gherini's great-grandfather, Justinian Caire, brought merino sheep to the island for their fine wool. And Gherini has shown no intention of eradicating them—as was done on the other 90% of the island, now an ecological preserve willed to the Nature Conservancy. Instead, the sheep run free on the 10% of the island Gherini co-owns with the park service. He permits hunters to fly to the eastern end of the island so they can shoot trophy rams for their horns and yearling ewes for their meat. Bow and arrow hunters pay $500 for the thrill. Those toting rifles pay $1,000. Under a license with Gherini, hunting guide Jaret Owens also lures other visitors onto the island to fish, hike, ride mountain bikes or paddle sea kayaks. Fees are much lower, beginning with $15 to step ashore. “We are providing twice as much as what they'll get with the park service,” Owens said. “They can have campfires and they don't have to have a ranger following them around. The public is very happy with what we are doing.” So is Gherini. “He has been doing a very, very good job out there,” Gherini said. “The park service gets its share of the money from Jaret Owens too.” As for the flock of sheep, Gherini scoffs at park officials' worries about overgrazing. “If they bought me out, they could get rid of the sheep in two weeks,” he said. “There has been a lot of talk, but I haven't seen the color of anybody's money yet.” ...

Owens, after two decades as a hunting guide on the island, does not take kindly to suggestions from park officials that he is not properly thinning the herd. Nor does he appreciate their lack of cooperation. He is particularly incensed that the park service has declined to use its boat to ferry a backhoe to the island so he can dig a channel in Scorpion Creek to protect the ranch from more flooding. Park officials told him he must first get the proper permits to alter the course of the stream bed. Without the permits, they said, helping him would make them a party to breaking federal law. “They have created a horror of red tape for a hunting guide like me,” Owens said. “They are telling me I need a permit to move some dirt. We've always moved the dirt every year. But our equipment is worn out and we were asking for their cooperation to bring my friend's equipment to the island.”... In the early 1990s, the federal government managed to buy the interests of Gherini's three siblings for roughly $4 million apiece. But the Oxnard attorney rejected the offer as too low, keeping his 25% interest in the 6,264-acre ranch and leaving the park service with 25%... “There are 12 miles of ocean frontage. I'd like to know where they find a comparable property to that,” he said...”

October 2, 1996 [VCS]: “U.S. seeks to Evict Island's Last Private Owner. Property off the Ventura coast has been in Francis Gherini's family since 1869. But Congress is ready to act. Washington—Congress is poised to give the heave-ho to an Oxnard attorney who owns the last bit of private property in Channel Islands National Park. After negotiating with him for years without success, frustrated government officials have decided to force Francis Gherini to sell the 6,264-acre ranch he co-owns on the east end of Santa Cruz Island. The sale has been tacked onto a massive parks bill that is tied up in the Senate, one of the final pieces of legislative business before the body recesses for the year. The House already approved the omnibus parks legislation, which funds park projects throughout the country. Gherini, who defiantly challenged the government's purchase last week, turned conciliatory in recent days as the Senate nears passage of the measure. Although he has run out of options, Gherini says he will continue to press for the best price for his land. “I'm comfortable with this process but I'm not sure it was necessary to engage such a harsh remedy,” Gherini said... As Gherini fought the government over the years, the appraised value of the land dropped. The last appraisal, which Gherini disputes, put Gherini's share at less than $3 million...”

February 6, 1999 [LAT]: “After nearly two decades of contentious negotiations, a federal jury in Los Angeles awarded $12.7 million Friday to the Gherini family to compensate them for the ranch they lost when the government created Channel Islands National Park. Family patriarch Francis Gherini said in a statement that he felt vindicated by the jury's verdict, reached in five hours after a three-week-long trial before U.S. District Judge Richard A. Paez. “All I ever wanted was the fair market value for my share of the largest island off the California coast,” Gherini said in the statement released by his lawyer, Roger M. Sullivan. “It never should have come this far. I'm a reasonable man.” With authorization from Congress, the National Park Service seized control of Francis Gherini's 6,300 acres of Santa Cruz Island in 1996, more than a decade after the island was designated part of the five-isle chain of parkland off the Ventura County Coast. The government offered $4 million for Gherini's land, but he spurned the deal, claiming the land was worth $14 million. After years of negotiations, Congress took the property and Gherini filed suit.

“You can't put into words how difficult this has been,” said Andrea Gherini, Francis' daughter, a lawyer who helped represent him in court. “It's been such an emotional two years--losing our property and losing our right to visit it.” An attorney for the park service, Joy Ryan, refused comment on the jury award. Channel Islands National Park spokeswoman Carol Spears declined to discuss the verdict, saying, “I don't want to comment on something I haven't seen.” Francis Gherini's great-grandfather, Justinian Caire, bought the rugged, wind-swept island in 1879 and settled it as a cattle and sheep ranch and winery. Throughout the Depression, ownership of much of the island changed hands, but the Gherinis held fast to 10% of it. The fight between the Gherinis and the federal government started in 1980, when the northern Channel Islands were designated a national park and Congress authorized the purchase of the family's remaining acreage. But the purchase agreement stalled for years as family members pushed the federal government to pay what they believed was the appropriate amount for the land. Andrea Gherini said federal officials routinely tried to low-ball her family during negotiations, leaving her father to wonder if he would ever see a penny for the gem-green land.
“The government likened it to a parcel in Riverside County designated a preserve for kangaroo rats--a piece of land where there is no ocean frontage and no ability to develop it,” she said. "The government said that had more value than the Gherini Ranch on Santa Cruz Island. That gives a flavor of what we've been fighting for 20 years. The government never wanted to value it fairly.”

In the early 1990s, the government managed to buy the interests of Francis Gherini's three siblings for about $4 million apiece. But the former Oxnard attorney rejected the offer as too low, keeping his 25% interest in the 6,264-acre ranch and leaving the park service with 75%. Park officials continued negotiations in recent years, but said they were constrained by law from paying more than fair market value.”

In 1995, park officials were still reviewing appraisals of the land, hoping they could meet Gherini's price and snatch up the last privately owned land in the national park. Then in November 1996, frustrated government officials decided to force Gherini to sell the ranch. He countered with a lawsuit. Park officials said they were eager to restore the island's natural habitat, which had been overgrazed by thousands of feral sheep left over from the family's old farming operation. Justinian Caire brought merino sheep to the island in the 1880s for their fine wool. The family never eradicated the woolly descendants as was done on the rest of the island. For years, the family charged bow-and-arrow hunters $500 each to pursue the sheep. The game concessionaire has since been shut down and park service officials are trying to slowly remove all the sheep. About 2,000 still roam the island's east end.”

May 4, 1999 [Pittsburgh Post- Gazette]: “Francis Gherini, 84, who won a battle with the federal government after it seized his Santa Cruz Island ranch land for a park, last Tuesday in Ventura, Calif. Mr. Gherini died of injuries he had suffered the previous week when he collapsed and struck his head on a driveway. Mr. Gherini, who lived in Ventura, was patriarch of a family that since 1880 had owned thousands of acres of land on Santa Cruz Island, 20 miles off the coast. In 1980, the island was designated to become a part of a five-island national park chain. He rejected a $4 million offer for his 6,300 acres, contending that it was worth $14 million. Mr. Gherini sued after the government condemned and seized the land in 1997.”