Monday, February 09, 2009


By John Olney

Baron’s Ball,September 20, 2008

I find disturbing that on September 20, 2008, COPIA conducted the “Baron’s Ball at the St. Regis Hotel, San Francisco” which a November 1, 2008 article by the San Francisco Chronicle reported that the 25 lots auctioned off “…raised $922,000, placing it among the nation’s top fundraising wine auctions. Ticket sales also contributed to the total.”

The COPIA Web site for this event states the following: “Proceeds will benefit COPIA’s children’s education programs and environmental and sustainability programs.”

And yet only six (6) days later, on Friday September 26, Napa COPIA announced:

24 of its 84 employees were laid off

It would be closed Monday through Thursday, each week until the spring of 2009

Its new plan to open a satellite for-profit COPIA in San Francisco

But, Napa COPIA had yet another profound announcement; on Friday, November 21, just a little over two months after the announcements of cut backs, lay-offs and possibilities of opening for-profit satellite branches, it announced it was terminating all operations, effective that very day, with no advance word to:

Contracted performers

Prepaid ticket holders

COPIA’s own
Then just 13 days later, on December 1st, at the end of the day, Napa COPIA shut down totally with the filing of Chapter 11 Bankruptcy. And once again there was no advanced warning to the remaining employees of Napa COPIA.

What I don’t understand is how Napa Copia managed to spend an average of about $461,000 per month from the end of September through the end of November, about a two-month period, expending all the Baron’s Ball auction proceeds (AKA donations) made at the September 20 function at the exclusive St Regis Hotel, and not have made the following payments:

Interest payment on the about $78 million in outstanding bonds obligations

Employee payroll & accrued vacation time, and employer deposits of
employee payroll deductions along with employer’s required matching

Payment on some 380 plus separate vendor invoices.

So, where did the almost $1 million in Baron’s Ball donations go? By the way, I can find nothing on the COPIA web site that spells out what the children’s education fund does in terms of programs.

$1 million State Grant

Interestingly enough, and as reported previously by the SACBEE, COPIA received a $1 million grant from the state Department of Parks and Recreation, The grant was made because of a 2002 bill which created the Historical and Cultural Resources Preservation Opportunity Fund. The grant program has the goal of pursuing the "preservation or interpretation of buildings, structures, sites, places, or artifacts, or any combination thereof, that preserve and demonstrate culturally significant aspects of California history." There is very important catch to the grant which the SACBEE article pointed out, and I quote the article: “Copia's potential troubles with the grant stem from a requirement that projects funded by the money stay open to the public for a minimum of 20 years.”

The SACBEE article goes on to describe the potential mess this $1 million grant can represent to the marketability of the COPIA land:

“But even before it filed for Chapter 11, Copia wanted to sell its south garden property and use the $10 million it hoped to get to reduce debt, documents show.

Parks department officials told Copia, however, that if it sold the land and did not relocate state-funded items to public access areas, it would have to refund at least part of the grant, letters show.

Copia said it would relocate the children's garden and planned to refund money for the dais after the land sale.

The parks department, though, is not listed as a Copia creditor in the bankruptcy filing. A Copia spokeswoman declined to comment on how Monday's filing affects its pledge to relocate the garden and pay back the money.”

So, why isn’t this liability listed?

I should think that just these two above incidents should require the bankruptcy court to order a special third party audit of COPIA’s books.

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