The Coastal Post - April 2000

The Kinsey Report
Oh what a plot we do weave...

By Jim Scanlon

Steve Kinsey was elected to his second term as Supervisor of the Fourth District despite the disturbing revaluation that he built two illegal structures on his Forest Knolls property and installed a new septic system without permits from the county. It was reminiscent of his last election when he admitted he had misrepresented himself as an architect which he was not.

It didn't apparently make a great difference in the outcome of the election however, as the final vote was 8,065 for the incumbent and 5,078 for newcomer Louis Nuyens who ran an unexpectedly strong campaign despite his being a political unknown who only hit full stride a few months before election day. Nuyens had little trouble in finding local support and funding. Kinsey's contributors included Realtors, lawyers, "venture capitalists", several PACs, one from Fairfield, and another, ATU (whatever that means) from Washington DC.

Kinsey had characterized his critics as a small group of diehard opponents to the French Ranch Development. Nuyens' strong showing in Point Reyes and the San Geronimo Valley where, the vote was almost 50-50, showed that opposition was definitely not small.

The story of Kinsey's illegal construction appeared in the Independent Journal just a few days before the election and IJ editors found it so troubling that, for the first time in it's history, they withdrew their endorsement of a candidate.

Although scandal threatened Annette Rose, Sausalito voters also returned her to anther term in office, excusing, or overlooking her admissions to having repeatedly misused her county credit card for personal purchases To make matters worse, she reimbursed the county with money from her election fund. Supervisor John Kress who was not running for election, was dragged into the credit card mess and first denied, but then admitted misusing his county credit card for personal expenses including a whitewater rafting trip.

County records revealed that of the Supervisors, Rose actually spent the least, $6,200, after repaying $3,500 for cabinets purchased at Home Depot. Hal Brown topped the list with $19,000, Kinsey came in second with $16,000 followed by Kress with $7,100.

The Coastal Post has looked into Kinsey's credit card expenses and it appears clear he has been careful using it. While some expenditures may seem high, a Supervisor deserves a decent meal when working on county business and hotel rooms do not come cheap. And yes, a Supervisor deserves to fly first class when traveling on County business

Getting back "Kinseygate" as revealed by the Independent Journal, Kinsey was quoted, "I, like a lot of folks in the San Geronimo Valley, have done some projects over the years." Kinsey, however, differs from "a lot of other people" in that he is an elected official and a licensed contractor who should know better. That he would secretly "upgrade" a failing septic system in 1986, is particularly ironic as septic systems have been a major preoccupation of his during the past four years. He has actively promoted large volume sewage systems and the County's involvement as the responsible "public entity' for joint sewage systems such as the Lagunitas School, and the French Ranch, potentially open the county to liability for private developments. (The Lagunitas School, by the way, did not have a construction permit from the county-strange, but true.)

Ed Stewart the former head of the Environmental Health Department for 28 years, accused Kinsey of endangering public health by repeatedly interfering in the affairs of his department. Stewart and Dave Mesagno, a septic system inspector for 16 years who ran afoul of Kinsey, were both literally thrown out of their offices without notice and later fired, for reasons that are still unclear. Kinsey denied having anything to do with what amounts to the dismantling of Environmental Health and the enforcement of County Codes regarding septic systems in West Marin. He has denied any involvement in the firings.

Some say coincidence-he Coastal Post thinks not!

A political cartoon sponsored by Citizens for Honest Government appeared in the Chronicle during the campaign depicting Kinsey and his fellow Supervisors, as foxes guarding the public health hen house-and as the proverb tells us, "life imitates art."

Moreover, as a licensed contractor, Kinsey could be disciplined by the Registrar of State Contractor's Licensing Board for violating the Business and Professions Code by building without proper permits. He could lose his license. Will this happen? The Coastal Post thinks not!

There are many questions involved in Kinsey's accounts in the IJ of what he did, when he did it, and what he is doing about it. He said, he is "not proud of what he has done" and is making amends but then is quoted, "There is no doubt that someone out there is trying to embarrass me," which doesn't sound like someone sincerely taking responsibility for his illegal actions. No one appears to be making anything up.

He is quoted , "I don't excuse my behavior" and follows this with the excuse, "but these are tiny structures." He claimed in the IJ that he began the paper work to correct his own permit problems last November. He may have begun the paperwork but if so, he still has it at home, for, as of mid-March noting has been filed with the county.

As an astute, knowledgeable contractor Kinsey knows that septic systems and structures in which people dwell need permits and inspections for excellent reasons of public health and safety.

It will be interesting to see what actions the County (i.e. Mark Riesenfeld, Alex Hinds and Patrick Faulkner) will take in this case. Kinsey's statements seem to imply that he will admit his mistakes, pay his fines, cooperate in having his property reassessed, get his permits, bring his property up to standard and get on with his life. Kinsey acknowledged that his present gravity leach field septic system won't meet county requirements. He may already be receiving special consideration in not being required to vacate his home until an acceptable system is installed and inspected.

The "detached studio" that Kinsey built in 1986 is a living unit which has to be brought up to code. This structure is built within a setback and, to be permitted, it would need a variance which would require a full planning review with notification to neighbors. The "detached shed" in which Kinsey "acknowledged" according to the IJ, "his son sometimes sleeps" is also a living unit with electricity, which also requires conformity to codes. Kinsey's claim that he was told this structure did not require a permit is ingenuous. It wouldn't require a permit if it stored tools. As a knowledgeable contractor trained as an architect he knows better.

If soils testing indicates there is improper drainage, a new, upgraded septic system might not be approved and the unpermitted structures might have to be torn down. This is what other citizens of West Marin and California have to face in dealing with illegal construction-for excellent reasons of public health and safety-otherwise you get the slums of Asia, Africa and South America and their public health problems.

It is not yet clear what fees and penalties Kinsey will have to pay in the process of bringing his property into conformity if , indeed that is possible. It is understandable that he want to "get this behind him", but it may not go away so easily.

When the Assessor's office discovered the illegal buildings in 1993, Kinsey was sent a letter asking that he voluntarily disclose the work he had done, so his property could be properly assessed. When the letter was not returned an estimate was made by inspecting the property from the street. Kinsey doesn't remember receiving letter. The present County Assessor will be examining Kinsey's structures and the present illegal septic system-which it didn't know about- to determine what is a true and proper assessment.

The IJ printed two letters recently, one from a former Assessor and another from a former Assistant Assessor. While the letters are basically polite and correct, they refer to Kinsey dismissively for asserting that "everybody is doing it" and allude to him as an evasive scofflaw. This sort of criticism could continue, particularly if "irate taxpayers" catch on. In any event there seems little doubt that Kinsey's permit problems stemming from his contempt for county rules, will not go away soon, and will damage his creditability and judgment, particularly around anything to do with County regulations and enforcement.

On the other hand, the Point Reyes Light has been exceptionally supportive of Kinsey in his permit tribulations, minimizing the problem, calling his structure [sic] a "cubby hole" and printing two letters expressing approval of Kinsey's code violations.

Kinsey's septic system and his attitude toward county codes and their enforcement will surely come up during the Personnel Commission hearing into Stewart and Dave Mesagno dismissals and, if there eventually is a suit for wrongful dismissal, Kinsey's personal permit problems could weigh in heavily and might prove costly to county taxpayers.

Since so many of Marin's top administrators have been involved by Kinsey in supporting large volume septic systems and in the firing of Stewart and Mesagno there may already be some unease among the various officials.

Stewart was quoted in the IJ as having told Alex Hinds (his boss, the one who fired him) about Kinsey's illegal structures. Hinds doesn't remember this. Hinds said that Kinsey spoke to him alluding to a problem with his property that he was in the process of correcting. Kinsey "flatly denied" this. There may be more of this sort of thing to come. It seems however, that Kinsey is not ready to give up his defiant crusade against oppressive county codes. Steve Holt, a contractor and the current owner of Design/Build Alliance in Forest Knolls, wrote an article which appeared in the IJ of March 19, 2000, "In West Marin, county red tape strangles home repairs." Basically the same article appeared in the Point Reyes Light of March 16, " Furor over the permit process." The article alleges instances of serious problems faced by homeowners in obtaining permits to remodel homes in West Marin-but never mentions Kinsey.

Neither the newspapers nor Holt mention that Holt is the long time partner of Kinsey in Design/Build Alliance and ownership of the firm has gone from one to the other over the last four years. Kinsey's most recent election filing statement says he is a co-owner and derives between $10.000 and $100,000 per year from the firm.

Most of us learn that there are often serious consequences for our actions, others never seem to learn. It appears doubtful that Kinsey has learned anything from his "skirting" of county rules, as the IJ so quaintly refers to his illegal activities.

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