Coastal Post Online

September 2001

The Kinsey Report:

Supervising The Supervisor

By Jim Scanlon

Seventeen months have now passed since Supervisor Steve Kinsey was notified by Marin County's Building Department that two illegally constructed buildings on his property were located in setbacks and required permits. Kinsey wrote back a month later that he was working on first getting his [illegally constructed] septic system approved. After all this time, it appears that Kinsey is almost ready to upgrade his illegal septic system and the capacity of this new system will determine the fate of his two buildings.

Since the proposed system which was tentatively approved by Environmental Health, will only accommodate a one bedroom residence, county rules prohibit using either of the two structures as "habitable space" (i.e. living units). Kinsey was notified by registered mail on August 14th and given until September 15, 2001, to figure out what use he intends to make of the buildings, and submit applications. Since one (or both) of the buildings is clearly in a setback, he will also need to apply for an encroachment permit. He could be required to demolish one or both structures. It will be interesting to see if Kinsey meets the deadline, something he has yet to do.

Ever since he was elected Supervisor, Kinsey's has been keenly interested in changing county septic rules, most recently through the Septic Technical Advisory Commission, which is encouraging amnesty for violators. His interest in "new technology" for sewage disposal just might possibly have been motivated by his ownership of an unusually shaped piece of property ill suited for waste water disposal. The firm hired by Kinsey's to modify his septic system, Questa Engineering, noted in its report to Environmental Health Services, "The shallow soil conditions ...combined with the narrow configuration ...seriously limit sewage disposal options. Only the upper two feet suitable percolation characteristics." Questa also wrote that a mound system is not well suited for the property. Questa also recommends retrofitting the house with water saving devices to reduce waste water by 30%, "Because of the limited on-site sewage disposal capacity."

What is being recommended by Kinsey's engineers, and agreed upon in concept by the county on an experimental basis, is a "Nibbler Jr.," an expensive, pre treatment system used mostly for restaurants. A self contained unit is inserted into the septic tank where it regulates the outflow and pumps oxygen into the water greatly increasing efficiency. It also provides storage in case of a breakdown. It is highly experimental and not known for its use with a residential unit.

Environmental Health has no experience with this system as it is the first ever proposed for installation here. At a meeting in February 2001, Environmental Health staff approved the conceptual design, subject to water quality monitoring for two years. If the system does not function properly, it will have to be abandoned and replaced with a sand filter system. The "Nibbler Jr." is not covered by the County's standard or alternative regulations. The use of such untested technology seems irregular and one wonders if it would have been approved for an ordinary citizen.

There is no way for the Coastal Post to determine what, if anything, is going on behind the scenes, other that what is reflected in the records available to the public, however, the use of unusual, experimental technology and the long delays, would seem to indicate that Kinsey's property is an unusually bad place for a septic system. Since he is a licensed contractor and trained as an architect, one has to assume he knew what he was buying when he bought the site, and that he knew what he was doing when he constructed his system without permits or oversight by the county.

What has concerned The Coastal Post-but apparently, not may others-has been Kinsey's role in the firing of Ed Stewart the former Chief of Environmental Health and Dave Mesagno the senior septic system inspector-a role Kinsey has consistently denied. Also of concern is Kinsey's self-appointed mission to radically change the County's regulations concerning septic systems. As President of the Board of Supervisors, he created and sits on the SEPTAC Commission, a committee of experts, most of whom he appointed. He is Chairman of the Growth Subcommittee. This group is revising the rules which will be referred to the Supervisors for their "rubber stamped" approval. All this, while he himself had and has an illegal system in operation. It seems clear to the Coastal Post to be, legally and ethically, a conflict of interest-but not clear enough for Marin County voters.

The Coastal Post is also concerned that County employees are being placed in the difficult position of having to supervise a County Supervisor who makes the rules while having broken the rules, then keeps quiet about it as if nothing happened. It is a common governmental practice to request that personnel from nearby counties, a different venue, take over supervision of cases where there might be an appearance of favoritism towards the violator, or pressure on regulatory personnel and staff.

This is not to second guess, or to approve, or disapprove of the actions, or lack of action by County staff, but to sympathize with them for doing their job under difficult conditions. At the very best, it is an awkward position for them to be in. They should not have to supervise a supervisor! It should be apparent to anyone, that this case, especially the water monitoring over the next two years, should be handled by outside authorities.


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