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Coachella Valley Castle-Builders Take Down Hot Air Balloons

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Photo of ranch via Desert Sun

A family called the Marellis has single-handedly killed the hot air balloon industry in the Coachella Valley, according to a wild tale from the LA Times today. The trouble started in 1999, when the Marelli family purchased an 80-acre property near the San Jacinto Mountains south of Indio. The family, in implementing a highly secretive business plan for a retreat on the property, planted rows of olive trees and double-fenced the property. Then they built a "Moorish fortress castle" that included two large buildings, a bell tower, and, naturally, a pool. The whole fortress castle is surrounded by 24 foot high, four foot thick walls, with turrets on each corner and a moat at the entrance. Not too shabby if you're into that sort of thing.

After their hard work building their fortress castle, the Marellis took offense to the hot air balloons that often flew above their particular corner of the valley. First came cease and desist letters, sent in 2007, then the lawsuits, filed in 2009. An article in the Desert Suns about the dispute led to death threats for the Marellis, who eventually dropped their suit.

But all the litigation led to a little less color in the sky: most of the air balloon businesses have either gone belly up or taken their businesses elsewhere (Del Mar, Temecula, and Colorado, for instance). Of the cluster of businesses that formerly operated in that area, only one company, Fantasy Balloon Flight, remains, but their business is down by 80 percent.
· A hot air balloon fight in the Coachella Valley [LA Times]
· Mysterious east valley farm's lawsuits ground nearly all local hot air balloons [Desert Sun]