On July 31, 2000 the Coastal Post visited the Environmental Health Service office at Civic Center and was allowed to view the septic system "file" of Supervisor Steve Kinsey's home in Forest Knolls. The "file:" consisted of one piece of paper, an application dated June 20, 2000 for a site inspection to test soils, groundwater, etc. Just one piece of paper.
A fee of $525.00 was collected but a hand written notation stated "May owe more ...should be full fee $1260.00 ?" After consulting with superiors, a staff person refused to make a copy of the "file," but provided a written request form which would be answered within 10 days in accordance with an opinion by the Marin County Council. A request for a copy of the opinion was refused as it was said to be privileged information.
A week later copies of the "file," which now consisted of three pieces of paper, were provided at a cost of $.45.
The second piece of paper added to the file was a letter dated April 20, 2000 to Kinsey thanking him for his letter of April 17 outlining his plans to seek a septic permit, and, that "...we will not need to contact the Assessor's Office in connection with your enforcement case." It goes on, "Please let us know if your require any assistance ...[and]... We look forward to assisting you in this matter." Obviously, an example of the new "consumer friendly policy" of Environmental Health.
The third piece of paper in the file was dated August 1, 2000 (the day after our first visit) informing Kinsey that Environmental Health, "...would normally require and application for Site Review, [a] meeting, or series of meetings with your consultant, and ... testing....[to] decide on the best course of action. The current fee for such a review is $1260 but according to a resolution of the Board of Supervisors it is increased by 100% in cases where work was undertaken without a permit, bringing the total cost to $2550." That is, Kinsey owes $1925.
The Coastal Post then visited the building department and learned that Kinsey had missed his June 30 deadline. On July 3, 2000 he wrote to the Enforcement Officer of the Community Development Agency requesting an extension until August 4, 2000 concerning, "Legalization of accessory structures." He stated he "...had encountered some serious health problems which required hospitalization and an extended recovery period."
The Enforcement Officer noticed that Kinsey's extension had expired again and said she would write him a letter.
Kinsey admitted in February that he had constructed his own septic system without permits several years before and had also constructed two buildings on his property without permits. At that time he was quoted in the Gannett Marin Independent Journal stating he had begun the process of legalizing his property in November 1999.
Recently, Kinsey, with Alex Hinds, the Community Development Agency's director, formed an advisory committee to revise Marin's septic system regulations. The Septic Systems Technical Advisory Committee (SepTAC) consists of two wastewater consultants, a homeowner, a business owner, an agricultural representative, an oyster grower, a septic system contractor, a building contractor, two environmental advocates, a medical doctor and a scientist.
Last September Hinds, newly recruited by the Board of Supervisors, with a mandate to make Environmental Health more "consumer friendly," dismissed Ed Stewart from his job as Environmental Health Chief, giving him five minutes to pack up and leave his office. Stewart had complained that Kinsey was constantly pressuring his staff to ignore regulations and approve septic systems that he, Stewart, felt endangered public health. He also filed grievance against Hinds (and four other high county officials) charging Hinds had endangered public health by switching Dave Mesagno, his most experienced septic inspectors, without consulting him or the County Health Officer.
Mesagno was known for strict enforcement of county rules and state law. Under Stewart's leadership owners of illegally constructed septic systems were required to "pump and haul" - that is, the systems were shut down, and the waste trucked to an approved dump until fully corrected. This policy is not now in effect and there is no way of knowing if this "consumer friendly " attitude has "lowered the bar" so to speak, and is encouraging consumers to modify or construct un-permitted, illegal, and possibly dangerous, septic systems.
With regard to revising the rules on septic systems, Kinsey was quoted in the Gannett Independent Journal stating he thought his experience [having an illegal septic system] "...will not color his thinking on the issue;" and, "I want to turn out the light on the old way of doing business." At the close of Stewart's "Whistleblower Hearing" in December 1999, Kinsey said he wanted an Environmental Health Department, "that was open to new technology."
Appoints Rancher-Vintner-B&B; Owner
In a regular meeting of the Board of Supervisors in early August, Kinsey himself appointed Point Reyes Rancher Steve Douthty to SepTAC although Doughty's name was not on the list of applicants. Kinsey, as Board President, read down the list of appointments and said at the end, "I'm going to put in Steve Doughty as the agricultural representative." He called for a second and the board voted approval.
Doughty operates a small Bed & Breakfast Hotel with a wine tasting room in Point Reyes Station and, like Kinsey, has had problems with Environmental Health because of an un-permitted (illegal) septic system.
Some time in 1998, while reviewing an application for Design Review for a wine tasting room, an Environmental Health Specialist (not Mesagno) held up the review because there was no record of a septic system for the site.
County records show that Mesagno made several visits to the Doughty Ranch which borders on, and drains into Tomales Bay. There was serious concern at that time because of an outbreak of sickness attributed to Norwalk virus. Mesagno had difficulty gaining access to the property to inspect what was going on. His visits continued up until the time he, like Stewart, was dismissed and escorted out of his office by security guards.
In December 1999, Doughty was one of a small number of men who complained about Stewart at Stewart's "Whistle Blower" hearing. Environmental Health records show that in late December Doughty completed the upgrade of the septic system serving his residence and B& B and now has a system considered more than adequate for its intended purpose.
A separate complaint file at Environmental Health contains an unsigned letter received in December 1999 by Alex Hinds which was forwarded to the head of Environmental Health with copies to others including the CDA's building enforcement officer.
The anonymous letter writer claimed to have stayed at the B&B; and to have observed illegally constructed buildings, faulty septic systems and other health hazards. It could not be determined if an investigation, or inquiry had been made on the claims detailed in the letter.