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Auburn bird farm owner leaving after neighbors cry foul

By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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For a while there, Gary Guerrero thought he had found paradise. The sign on the electronically gated entrance to his 32-acre property in an upscale neighborhood of large lots near the Auburn Valley Country Club reads: “Paradise found.” Guerrero said “Paradise lost” would be a more suitable message these days as he prepares to uproot what had been a thriving exotic bird farm. The bird farm has run afoul of some of his neighbors. Now he has a deadline of Dec. 31 to move about 1,000 birds off the land because of a court battle he said he just couldn’t afford to fight any longer. Citing rules of the development – called codes, covenants and requirements – that residents of the development are required to abide by, Kenneth and Shirley Jensen sued Guerrero on the grounds that he was operating a business out of his home Guerrero said other residents in the subdivision also have businesses and he’s tried to fend off objections with landscaping and discontinuing bus visits to the property. A 13-year-resident of the Country Club Lane property, Guerrero said he has found temporary quarters for the remainder of what was once a 2,000-bird business in Nevada County. He’s planning to eventually find a parcel of around 100 acres where he feels he can continue his business unfettered. Another possibility is partnering with a local winery that may want exotic birds as an attraction, he said. Guerrero said that his major source of income from commercial real estate dried up with the current recession. That’s forced him into rarely used Chapter 12 bankruptcy for family farms and kept him from continuing a court fight he said he believes he could have won. Guerrero said he had ran up $150,000 in court costs over three years before he “threw in the towel.” Robert Sinclair, a Roseville attorney speaking for the Jensens, said the CC&Rs were a technical problem Guerrero couldn’t surmount and the issue of water quality coming off the bird owner’s property was a social problem. A Nevada Irrigation District ditch flows through the subdivision but starts on Guerrero’s land. He’d constructed concrete lined holding areas for water in many of the netted bird habitats on the property. But that water didn’t flow downstream, he said. The irrigation district water is for non-human consumption but the Jensen’s voiced concerns over high fecal and e. coli levels. Guerrero said he believes he could have won that court battle. Sinclair said that the CC&Rs didn’t allow the raising of birds as livestock or a commercial business on the property and a judge agreed with that before issuing a summary judgment in favor of the Jensens. That made the Jensens the ultimate winners in the case if it had proceeded, he said. Guerrero, who can claim past customers as high-profile as Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler and Michael Jackson, said that he has the support of most neighbors. The Jensens moved in five years ago. “It only takes one,” he said. But Sinclair said that when Guerrero tried to change CC&Rs to allow his business, neighbors rejected the proposal 3-to-1. In the end, while Guerrero was building what he thought was a sanctuary for rare and exotic birds, he ended up with some neighbors who thought it was for the birds too. Just in a different way.