Winter 2014 pg3

Shaded Parcels – the problem with them.

The act of “shading a parcel” puts a cloud on the legal status of the parcel, with no legal notification of this act to the landowner. This “shading of parcels” has been practiced by the County for over 20 years and is not authorized by any law.

Shaded Parcels should not exist. Since 1976, state law has required counties to go through a notification and review process and record a Notice of Violation when they have knowledge that a parcel has been illegally subdivided. The purpose of that law is to provide notice to buyers and others that a parcel has been illegally divided, to protect future buyers and lenders. State law also spells out the rights of innocent purchasers to force the seller to buy the parcel back and pay damages.

Instead of following this practice, the Humboldt County Planning Department has shaded a set of maps reflecting parcels they deemed “illegal,” without saying a word to any owner until they come in for a permit. At that point, they check the maps, see that a parcel is shaded, and finally let the owner know that they have a problem. The burden is then placed on the owner to prove their parcel is legal, or do whatever is necessary to make it
legal before they can get a permit. Many of these parcels have changed hands multiple times over 30 years, and it is no longer possible to find the person responsible for the illegal division, to hold him or her accountable to the current owner.

Since 1976 people have been buying these parcels assuming they are legal parcels, paying full market price for them because of the County’s failure to do its job. Lenders have also made loans which never would have been made if a Notice of Violation had been recorded. These parcels are worth far less than market value if they were illegally created.

There are three documents used by the Planning Department related to legal parcel status:

  • A Certificate of Subdivision Compliance means that the parcel was legally created.
  • A Conditional Certificate of Compliance states that a parcel was illegally created, and lists the steps that the property owner would have to take to make the parcel legal. It allows the property to be sold and encumbered, but states that no building permit will be issued on the property until all of the problems have been resolved. If a landowner applies for a Certificate of Compliance, and the county finds that it was illegally created, they must issue a Conditional Certificate, not a Notice of Violation.
  • A Notice of Subdivision Map Act Violation states that the parcel has been illegally created, and that the land “MAY NOT BE SOLD, LEASED,
    FINANCED OR TRANSFERRED, NOR SHALL ANY PERMIT PERTAINING TO BUILDINGS OR USE OF THE LAND BE ISSUED until full compliance.” Oddly, it also states that the Notice is deemed constructive to the very future owner it prohibits!

The Planning Dept. does not want to give Certificates of Compliance to Shaded Parcels. They want to give Conditional Certificates of Compliance which require current owners to meet the standards which would have been required for a subdivision at the time it was illegally created. Many times this will require changes to existing easements or physical changes to access roads which the current owner cannot do or obtain without participation of neighbors. They may also require a second access, or other improvements, and they frequently have to hire a surveyor and record a Parcel Map to legally create their parcel; regardless of how long it has existed or how many times it has been sold.

Further, the parcel may not meet zoning and land use requirements due to its size or other factors, which would make a solution impossible.

The Conditional COC does allow people to sell and borrow against their property, but they cannot get any building permit until they comply with the requirements, even if they have a fire, and need to repair or rebuild the home they purchased. Having a Conditional Certificate of record will surely reduce the market value of the property, and be virtually impossible to finance through a bank.

The County needs to recognize that they are partly responsible for allowing this situation to exist. Their failure to follow the law has harmed a lot of people. Had they followed State law at the time they shaded the parcel, we would not have 37 years of re-sales of these parcels. Enforcement of the law would have also brought attention to the problem, and fewer illegal divisions would have occurred in the first place. The first purchaser could have required the seller to undo the deal.

In September of 2011, the Planning Department sent Notices to about 1500 landowners telling them that they have shaded parcels. In the Notice, they told people they could choose to do nothing until they wanted a permit, even though they planned all along to begin a Notice of Violation process against everyone who did not come in to resolve the problem. The Board of Supervisors was alerted to this situation in October of 2011. It is time for the Board to work pro-actively to stop shading parcels, follow the law, and find a solution for the current owners who have been harmed by this practice.

“We believe that hundreds of property owners have had the value of their property placed in jeopardy and potentially have been harmed through this illegal process,” said Petitioner’s Attorney Timothy Needham, from the law firm of Janssen, Malloy LLP, and Co-Counsel with William Barnum of Barnum Law Office. Both firms have stepped forward to represent HumCPR in a concerted effort to force the county into legal compliance and uphold the property rights of Humboldt County landowners. “It is unfortunate that it is necessary for a lawsuit to be filed in order to get the county to follow the law,” continued Needham. “We would hope that this will encourage collaborative efforts by the county to resolve the problems that this practice has created.”
Source: Press Release April 2012


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