Fall 2010 pg4

A Look at an Amnesty Program

Blake Lehman

Southern Humboldt Resident & Business Owner

On January 1st 2010 the county of Mendocino implemented an "Amnesty Period" for unpermitted structures in an attempt to generate fees and tax dollars and to help residents get in compliance with the county regulations. The amnesty program provides all investigative fees and penalties to be waived if a property owner contacts the county departments and works with them in order to bring the unpermitted structures to current building codes and get them on the tax records.

Blake Lehman

In a telephone interview with Chris Warrick – chief building inspector at the Mendocino County planning and building department in Ukiah, he indicated they have had 90 applications since the program began and very few complaints about the process. "We were looking at layoffs in the department and this looked like a good way to generate some additional work and help the residents of this county get their unpermitted buildings permitted and taxed". "Investigation fees are approximately $4,500.00 per file. If the land owner calls us, they don’t have those fees and that money can be better spent on getting these buildings in compliance". "These are tough economic times and if a landowner can use that money to improve his property and get on board with us, it’s a win/win situation".

Susan Ranochak at the Mendocino County Assessor’s office said that for tax collection purposes "we would go back four years to the date of the improvements – whichever is less". "Our goal here is to collect taxes for the county and help the planning /building department do their job".

David Jensen at Environmental Health said "The process is fairly painless. The property owner needs to have their existing septic system inspected by an engineer who evaluates what’s already there and if it meets current standards. He then does soil tests to see where a replacement system will go when the existing one needs to be replaced. Jensen says "approximately 90% of the existing systems meet current standards and the other 10% need little upgrades to comply". "The county doesn’t need to inspect because the permit is signed by an engineer, that way we can keep fees low. The permit fee is $553.00 and the review fee is $305.00." "Every new permit which comes in through the amnesty program is a permit we wouldn’t have sold." "It’s a great way to generate money for the county and help stimulate the economy in the private sector."

Another phone interview with George Rau of Rau Engineering said his company has done about 15 of these jobs at an average of $3,500.00 to $4,000.00 per job. "About half the jobs are now permitted and the others are getting close."

According to my math, if I spend $3,500.00 on a septic permit/inspection and a total of $858.00 with the county fees, I’m still money ahead if I saved $4,500.00 in investigation fees.

As a Real Estate Appraiser, I see a lot of structures which are well built, but don’t have permits. It really hasn’t been an issue until recently. With foreclosures on the rise, lenders want to know that buildings are permitted and that they can be rebuilt if they are destroyed. If they loan on a property and the structures can’t be rebuilt, most of their collateral is gone. Most lenders are not interested in "raw land". They see structures as more marketable and they are insurable – making lending less of a gamble.

It appears the Mendocino County Planning Department is paying attention and is willing to work with its residents in resolving an age-old issue. It makes me wonder why the Humboldt County planning department is more interested in spending scarce funds by sending code enforcement officers out into the hills than trying something more proactive and user friendly like this program. Hopefully the Humboldt County offices will pay close attention to their more progressive neighbors to the south and investigate a model fit to our unique circumstances. I hope the Humboldt County offices realize what an olive branch a program like this could be to landowners who no longer trust our local government to look out for their best interests.

“Ridgewood Village” Project – Smart Growth or Sprawl?

Forster-Gill development project

The mission of the Humboldt Coalition for Property Rights is to preserve the Humboldt County rural lifestyle. We have grave concerns regarding the present form of the Forster-Gill development project.

The Ridgewood Village plan is the largest subdivision proposed in Humboldt County since Shelter Cove and it does not need to be on the fast track to approval. It is time to slow down and listen to the public.

This development, which calls for 1,442 homes on 143 acres on the outskirts of Eureka, is being portrayed as fitting the requirements of Urban In-fill, a component of so-called Smart Growth. In our estimation, this is Urban Sprawl on steroids.

Cutten Ridgewood Village

It is astounding to witness such a wholesale buy-in by some self-described environmentalists, certain Supervisors and County planners to a scheme that will forever change the very fabric of the rural Cutten/Ridgewood area. The EIR states in part "Cumulative development, would eventually convert the Ridgewood Heights area from a primarily rural area dominated by undeveloped forest ridges and hillsides to a primarily suburban area with a scattering of GO (open space). All this in the name of "Smart Growth"?

This plan’s many problems are too serious to ignore. The EIR is insufficient and lacking in peer review. The sewage system is inadequate. And the increase in traffic in the development phase alone will almost certainly be a danger to school children and others.

The plan claims to address our need for affordable housing while being inconsistent with the Housing Element requirement for "affordable housing that integrates well with the community" which this most certainly will not. It will instead, destroy the existing community in order to develop a cookie cutter variety better suited to large urban areas.

Neighbors of the proposed project are worried about its’ impact on their community. Eureka residents are concerned about how the project would affect traffic, public services and businesses in Eureka, Community leaders are concerned about its’ impact on infrastructure. Fire and other service providers are concerned that it will overwhelm local services.

Cutten Resident, Julie Timmons told the Planning Commission that: "county staff, rather than recognizing that a project of this magnitude should have the widest possible noticing and input from the affected citizens, have done the bare minimum allowed by law to inform the residents of Cutten-Ridgewood of this impending massive change in their lives. This project will change the entire nature of the area to an extent we have never witnessed in any other project."

This outcry from all sides of the community is not just a case of "NIMBYism". This is as fundamental as our vision for Humboldt County and this "New Urbanism" is a far cry from our rural roots.

Jim and Brenda Yarnall are among the many who have voiced their concerns. Jim is a Retired Eureka Assistant Fire Chief and is concerned about how Humboldt Fire District No. 1 and CalFire will be able to serve the area if the project goes forward as planned. In a 5-page comment on the project he listed numerous barriers to efficient fire protection, among them:

"Narrow street widths will be congested leading to extended response times", "Unpaved fire access roads on steep grades between the ridges", "Reduced lot set back for structures leading to multiple exposure fires", "Narrow common driveways to residential units which will be blocked and prevent access by fire apparatus", "Poor access for emergency vehicles in commercial areas", "Lack of a fuel management plan for the "donated" community open space", ¢"Lack of adequate funding for fire protection". Jim also addressed air quality, noise pollution and traffic problems that would accompany this project. "The impacts upon the Cutten/Ridgewood communities as well as the City of Eureka are immense," he said.

Jim’s wife Brenda, a schoolteacher at Cutten Elementary School, pointed out that the increase in students will overwhelm the existing school and the developers do not provide an affordable alternative.

Proposed recreation sites are inadequate too. Brenda points out that "parks" that might sound good and look good on paper fall far short in reality: "Phase 1 calls for a total of 1.76 acres in 3 separate parks. Two parks list an average slope of 20% with some land over 30%. This is not useable parkland but rather throw away land in the gulch so steep that you could never play soccer on it." "The third park is approximately ¾ of an acre but it appears that half of it is covered with a storm water detention basin with discharge flowing through a trash rack, which is an extremely dangerous situation for children." She added, "Parkland should be flat and useable with grades of less than 2-4%. These are examples of Forster-Gill attempting to maximize financial return at the expense of current residents."

Then there’s the poster child "community forest". Is it too good to be true? Among others, Brenda Yarnall certainly thinks so: "The 200+ acres of donated open space referred to as a community forest is so steep it is not user friendly and can in no way be compared to Arcata’s example. The only reason this land is being ‘donated’ is that it is unbuildable."

Brenda is also concerned about the public process: "Zoning changes should not be allowed on a project of this magnitude without far more complete plans and descriptions in place to allow for all parties involved to see exactly how our community is going to change and who will bear the costs of the long term consequences it will incur." " Furthermore, the public should have access to these details in order to make informed input. Why is county staff allowing the numerous errors, inconsistencies and undocumented claims put forth in this document?"

HumCPR agrees. We have asked that a Citizens Advisory Committee, which is required by the current General Plan, be formed to better reflect the input of the general public.

As Brenda Yarnall put it: "Any developer coming into our area with a project of this size and with such diverse community implications should be held far more responsible. Let’s do this correctly. We, the residents of Humboldt County, will live with these decisions forever. Forster-Gill will go home."


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