CODE ENFORCEMENT AT IT AGAIN
The County’s Code Enforcement Unit (CEU) is back on the march again. Several weeks ago they received Board of Supervisors authorization to seek a search warrant for alleged General Plan/Building Code infractions on several parcels of land located on McClellan Mountain, near Bridgeville. The intended target appears to be the peat moss/soil amendment operations of McClellan Mountain Ranch (see the North Coast Journal article of April 15, 2010 entitled “Peat Mosh”).
A Humboldt County Superior Court judge issued a search warrant and the County Counsel’s office took to the field – but not alone. The search warrant provided for a host of other non-County agencies to tag along on the County’s coattails.
Agencies such as the:
1) State Department of Fish and Game
2) North Coast Water Quality Board
3) State Mines and Reclamation
4) California Department of Forestry (Cal-Fire)
5) U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
6) U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
7) U.S. Army Corp of Engineers
This lineup certainly looks like a massive response to some simple County code infractions. It unfortunately furthers the perception that County land use ordinances (General Plan/Building ordinances) are routinely used to open doors for the enforcement efforts of other agencies.
IS THIS REALLY THE INTENDED PURPOSE OF THE COUNTY LAND USE LAWS?
Were these Land Use and Building code infractions so egregious and such a danger to society that they required a 10 vehicle convoy of armed officers to quell?
To date the issuance of the search warrant appears to have resulted in the following:
- Two Cal-Fire Forestry citations for converting approximately 8 acres of timberlands for the purpose of peat storage and the construction of a shed for storage of processed peat. It appears that these activities occurred at least 10-20 years ago.
- The required permitting of a domestic water system that appears to have been servicing a residence for at least 70 years.
- The filing of further citations remains a possibility by the Water Quality Board, State Mines and Reclamation and/or the Department of Fish and
Game. The County has yet to weigh in with any Code infraction charges.
- The laying off of 12-15 employees, many who have been employed in the peat endeavor for nearly 15 years.
In the haste to secure the storage areas, and assure that these lands were not spirited away in the dead of night, the agencies apparently lost their bearings and without permission or legal authority searched the properties of neighboring landowners. One of these owners had already been contacted by the County and had tentatively agreed to a date to allow the Code Enforcement Unit to enter upon his property. Apparently the potential land use violations posed such a danger to society that the CEU could not wait for the scheduled date and were “forced” to cut locks, remove gates and secure the area in their zeal to exercise their authority and ensure the safety of the public.
The above actions raise the following questions that should be discussed in a public forum by the Board of Supervisors:
- Were the actions of the CEU, led by the County Counsel, appropriate and reasonable for potential Land Use and/or Building Code infractions? These are civil code violations. Was armed access necessary or completely over reacting to a situation which did not involve suspected violence, criminal activity or an immediate threat to the public?
- Why did the other State and Federal agencies not obtain their own search warrants if they suspected violations of their statutes? Why did the CEU and County Counsel take the lead role?
- Are the actions of the CEU, and County Counsel, merely an affirmation of the "war on rural living" that is manifesting itself in the current General Plan Update process? Have the County leaders so embraced the "Smart Growth" philosophy embodied in the General Plan Update that they are using the CEU as "foot soldiers" to inspire fear in those who desire only to have the choice to raise their families in a rural setting?
- Why is the County acting as if these building code infractions have just come to light when the County Assessor has been assessing the improvements for many years and the landowner has been paying taxes on these assessments?
- Why did not the County attempt to administratively resolve the code infractions by dialogue and negotiation? Voluntarily pressuring one into compliance is a much simpler and less expensive procedure than one which involves a legal prosecution avenue. Why wasn’t this route utilized to obtain compliance? (See the Mendocino County amnesty article ).
- The County has a tendency, when faced with using a "carrot" or a "stick"option to obtain compliance, to too often take the "stick" approach. This approach costs the County millions. Just look at the Bob McKee/Tooby Ranch as an example, it makes one wonder what the citizens of the County are getting for the expenditure of their tax dollars. What will be the cost in this peat situation and what will the citizens gain by it?
- The attitude that seems to predominate in the Community Development Services department, and echoed by the County Counsel’s office, is "if you don’t like my decision then sue me". The County coffers are running dry and it is time for those whose primary responsibility is overseeing the wise use of taxpayer dollars to get a handle on the legal costs the County has been incurring.
Featured Cover Artist: Arleen Olson
Arleen Olson has been a professional photographer for over 25 years working in both studio and environmental locations. She has photographed archeology, architecture, aerial views, commercial products, portraits, weddings, special events and fine art. She has lived and worked in southern Humboldt County for 18 years.
Her photographs have been published widely and a compilation of her work is part of the permanent collection of Women Photographers in Humboldt County, 1850-2000, by Peter Palmquist, which resides at the Beinecke Library, Yale University. Arleen has exhibited her photographs throughout the Mid-West and Northern California.
She is the author and publisher of Humboldt Wild, a photography book of Humboldt County. The more Arleen traveled this area, the more she realized what a truly unique place Humboldt County is. Humboldt Wild is a chronicle of her explorations of the wild environs of Humboldt County and of the amazing spirit of the people who live there. Her spectacular visual journey through southern, central and northern Humboldt concludes with a chapter highlighting the county’s numerous renowned events, which together with such a diverse environment, makes living in Humboldt County extraordinary.
A very special "thank you" to Arleen for graciously allowing us to reprint her work here.Signed copies of the Humboldt Wild book are available from the artist for retail, wholesale or large quantity discounts, as well as a large collection of stock photos, for use in online or print publication and fine art photographs on archival paper.
For more information please contact Arleen at: 707-923-1974 or firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.arleenolsonphotography.com.