Friday, November 09, 2007

Backwoods Brawling

This week's Town Dandy

Excerpt: ...Here, in a nutshell, is a summary of the situation. Currently, and for the last 30 years, someone who wanted to build a home on land zoned for timber production (“TPZ land”) required only a building permit. The proposed change would require that people who wish to build on TPZ secure, in addition, a much more onerous permit that would require, among other things, that the proposed home is “necessary for the management of the timberland” — i.e., for timber harvesting. On the face of it, that would seem to equal something close to “never.”

Looked at from one angle, the proposal is perfectly consistent with the changes the county is making to its general plan, which should be updated sometime next year. A major goal of the general plan is to confine population growth to already populated areas, so as to prevent sprawl and to preserve working timber and agricultural lands from development. There’s plenty of arguments to be made that rural subdivision has major impacts on wildlife and watersheds. Environmentalists and smart growth advocates have lined up solidly behind the proposed changes.

On the other hand, there’s no questioning the fact that any change would have immediate and devastating effects on some 1,700 separate owners of TPZ lands, who together own about one million acres of Humboldt County land. Eureka attorney Bill Barnum, whose family’s company owns about 30,000 acres of land, estimates that the changes will wipe away $1 billion in Humboldt County property values — about $150,000 per TPZ parcel. Whether those figures are strictly accurate or not, the very agitated folks who have organized themselves to oppose the change certainly have plenty to fear.

There’s no question that it’s within the county’s power to impose the changes. Several neighboring counties — Trinity, Del Norte, Shasta — have similar rules in place, and have had for some time. (Others, like Mendocino County, have rules similar to Humboldt County’s current ones.) It’s startling, though, how reaction to the Pacific Lumber proposal seems to have precipitated this headlong rush to change things as quickly as possible, without the possibility of thorough study or debate. The result, inevitably, will be very nasty politics and very expensive lawsuits...

Hanks asks Did it ever occur to (Bill Barnum) that he, Maxxam and Schectman were, by all appearances, on the same side of the TPZ issue?

Umm, I hafta disagree with that one, Hank - I don't think Bill Barnum is putting in 40 x 100 foot greenhouses to grow pot illegally. I could be wrong. If you mean that it's the argument that you should have the right to do whatever you want on your land - I still don't think you'd find that that is what Barnum is saying. Most everyone agrees that some rules are necessary, and good people tend to abide by them. Criminals don't. That's what should be being addressed, not denying someone - anyone - the right to sell their parcel or build a home on their parcel.


  1. This thing about Schectman needs a closer look. Like maybe check into Stevie Wonders partner in this venture. And then check into the partners current legal and or criminal problems! BIG TIME marijuana cultivation?!. Like many of those involved in the large scale underground marijuana industry in Humboldt County they try to hide it all with an LLC or legitamate business.

    Maybe someone should make some inquiries about PVG's relationship, past and present, with Stevie Schectman! And one or two other local defense lawyers?

    The District Attorney, as an elected offical, is NOT subject to a background investigation, a psyhcological assesment, and not a polygraph examination. Maybe there should at least be mandatory "disclosures" about personal relationships that might be in conflict with the duties as an elected official?

    I guess there is one consolation! Mendocino County is worse, in general, not necessarily the DA.

  2. I tend to agree with Leo Sears-

    "The flap surrounding the subdivision of the “Tooby Ranch” in Southern Humboldt and the current uproar in response to the county's temporary moratorium on TPZ building permits have much in common.

    The owners of Timber Production Zone and the Williamson Act properties receive large property tax breaks in exchange for restrictions on their property.

    Both programs allow construction related to the purposes of the legislation -- to subsidize timber and agricultural production. But insuring that building permits meet the legislative intent has always been relegated to the counties.

    Waving signs saying “rights to TPZ are for free” and arguing that the county has no right to restrict the use of TPZ property are groundless. State law clearly states that “land zoned as timber production ... shall be enforceably restricted... and the restriction shall be enforced by the city or county in a manner to insure the purposes of” this legislation.

    It is, however, debatable just what those enforceable restrictions should be and when tax breaks should be withdrawn for not meeting their intended purpose -- tasks compounded by decades of turning a blind eye to those benefiting from the tax breakswhile skirting the intent of the law.
    TPZ-designated properties pay property taxes based on an artificial value of $28 to $248 per acre when the property can be worth hundreds of times more. This attracts buyers looking for large residential home sites -- and commands inflated prices if the property taxes remain next to nothing.

    Williamson Act property is under separate legislation and a different tax-break evaluation, but a similar situation is at play. Subdividing properties that had been receiving tax breaks designed to preserve wide open spaces and ranches creates conflicts with buyers intending to farm, if at all, only as a sideline or hobby -- and still wanting the reduced property taxes.

    The problem is statewide, and other counties are also bestirring themselves. Calaveras County supervisors recently voted to remove the tax breaks for five parcels, saying that the properties (subdivided from a large ranch) no longer met the requirements of California's agricultural preserve law.

    The genesis of the knee-jerk TPZ building moratorium and the ensuing uproar is Palco's proposal to subdivide 22,000 acres into 160-acre “trophy” properties marketed to the out of area jet-set. No one puts much credence in their projected value of $5 million per parcel. But suppose they sold for half that? A $138-an-acre average TPZ valuation would be over 99 percent less than the $16,000-an-acre purchase price.

    Do we really believe the “trophy” subdivisions (with golf course and other amenities) would be maintained for timber production? If the subdivision is allowed, should their property taxes be 99 percent less than other properties? Should decisions regarding Palco be applied to any and all parcels no longer meeting the intent of the tax subsidies?

    How, in principal, is Palco's proposal different from what happened with the Tooby Ranch?

    Tough questions that demand answers.

  3. A lot of good questions - and I'm sure we'll see some interesting answers.

    Two things jump out at me - one: it is a tax deferrment on timber, the taxes are paid when the timber is harvested. There are multiple reasons for that, one of which is that you want to encourage people to let the trees grow to a good size. That may mean 80 to 100 years if you actually want good redwood and not crappy worthless sapwood, and that is the community's/society's investment in allowing the property owner to let the trees grow. You want to encourage them, just like the larger community should be supportive of farming. To do anything less is short sighted

    So, when you will see the taxes paid may vary, and may outlast your own lifetime. It is a long term investment, made possible by private landholders

    The genesis of the tax deferment was based on fairness - to avoid people having to cut on short cycles, and to avoid people being forced off their lands by owing taxes on incomes not yet realized - and if you think about it it allows "regular people" ie: not wealthy people - to own lands.

    The second thing that jumps out at me is your question about the "wealthy" buying the "kingdom" properties. That invocation of the class warfare card makes me angry immediately, but I'll try to step back from that. Your assumption that only spoiled brats are going to buy and afford those parcels is, to my mind, wrong - and ignores the fact that very wealthy people are the very ones who have historically set aside lands for parks, and reserves, not just for themsleves, but for others, and for posterity.

    You don't think someone like Woody Harrelson or Bonnie Raitt would put their money where their mouths have been, and buy up some parcel like that - even at $6 mill, nothing to them? Surely they would. And there are probably hundreds, if not thousands like them.

    There are people who truly LIKE the idea of living on the land, and getting away from the rat race, who have no desire for golfcourses and country clubs.

    BUT - you really ought to read Range Magazine's report on the Nature Conservancy - linked in the sidebar - you may be quite fascinated by their record of buying up property like that and turning it into private club land. That's the hypocrisy that really gets to me.

    LIke I said - you ask alot of good questions, and my rant is not necessarily aimed at you - but rather at the people, like Diane Beck who draw on sarcasm and hatred to justify harming the very real people in this community who have stood up to say just exactly how this decsion has affected - and will affect them.

  4. Range rocks. Stewards of the Range rocks. Rose rocks.


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