Grand Jury to Investigate County Political Favoritism
In West Marin Ranch Permits
By Elena Belsky
According to documents recently acquired by the Coastal Post, written by Peter Brekhus, attorney for longtime Rancher and West Marin Sanitary Landfill owner LeRoy Martinelli, there is evidence to support claims of political favoritism by Marin County departments and supervisors towards "connected" ranchers in West Marin.
As stated in a nine page Memorandum from Brekhus, which builds the case and cites attached exhibits, "Mr. Martinelli is so incensed by the uneven treatment by the County and the County political leaders that he has requested the Grand Jury to look into the matter and the Grand Jury has promised to do so." Mr. Martinelli and his lawyer have received correspondence from the Grand Jury, confirming their intentions.
The Martinelli family is involved in ongoing litigation surrounding the forced closure of the former sanitary landfill, and ultimately believe the closure to have been politically motivated and driven by local politicians, including Supervisor Steve Kinsey. The landfill issue is not without controversy among environmental leaders in West Marin; the landfill operation was required to meet strict environmental regulations imposed by County and State regulators. The matter of how it was closed and the joint financial responsibility of the physical closure requirements according to environmental standards, remain in contention. In the past, the Martinelli's were also made to comply with laws regarding trailers used for agricultural employee housing, once the County brought the violations to their attention.
In contrast, Martinelli's two neighbors, Robert Giacomini and Steve Doughty, have a lengthy history of complaints regarding illegal construction, violations of agricultural housing codes, operating food businesses without proper permits, unpermitted and unauthorized water sources for food manufacturing, questionable septic system performance, failure to provide information requested by the County, among other infractions.
The public records on the Doughty and Giacomini ranches show a chronic pattern of failing to meet County imposed deadlines, demands for information, and a disregard for the permitting process. The County has never issued a penalty or taken legal action to enforce their mandates, or demand compliance on either the Doughty or Giacomini ranches. To date, neither business has resolved all complaints of violations-both continue to operate retail businesses producing food for public consumption, potentially putting the public's health and safety at risk.
The Coastal Post made several attempts to contact Mr. Doughty and Mr. Giacomini for their comments, without success.
The Doughty Ranch, B&B, and Winery
In 1997, the Doughtys bought a neighboring, small parcel with a house and garage, where they initially proposed to the County Planning Department to convert the garage into a "wine tasting room"-two years later, the use permit application included a "wine processing facility" as well. Apparently, the processing facility was in full operation, by this time, without the necessary permits. After obtaining a Use Permit from the County, the troubles continued as the Doughty's repeatedly failed to provide verification of potable water and properly functioning septic system-which ultimately needed to be replaced in the fall of 1999, with an alternative septic system. Repeated extensions on permit compliance were sought by the applicants, and granted by County staff, while the B&B, wine tasting room, and processing facility continued to be in business.
From 1999 to date, a number of complaints were lodged with the County, including; A patron of the B& B who reported conversations with Steve Doughty alleging new illegal construction, and disclosures of further violations, and a complaint by Mr. Martinelli regarding five illegal trailers used for agricultural employee housing on the ranch parcel. There has never been a response, investigation, or action to the first complaint. After six months of contacts and site visits where County inspectors initially failed to find the trailers (even when provided with photographs), the Environmental Health Services Department finally issued a notice of violation to the Doughtys in October 2001, for the illegal housing. The notice gave the violators ten days to comply or face $2500 per day in fines.
According to public records, no action has been taken by the County since the notice of violation (nearly a year ago), prompting Mr. Martinelli to conclude, "I guess it really depends on who you know." And Mr. Brekhus fittingly states, "Mr. Doughty is appointed by Supervisor Kinsey to the Septic Advisory Committee, so I guess he does not have to comply with County Septic and Sewer requirements like we were force(d) to." (Of course it is well known that Supervisor Kinsey was found in violation of the County Septic and Sewer requirements for his own personal residence.)
Note: Mr. Doughty did not submit an application for the SEPtac committee position as all other applicants did, he was nominated by Steve Kinsey during the Board of Supervisor's hearing, and was immediately appointed.
The Giacomini Ranch and Blue Cheese Factory
Local, West Marin environmental watchdogs began noticing new buildings on the Giacomini Dairy Ranch in the fall of 2000, and through a public records search determined that there were no permits issued for the construction. Letters of inquiry and complaint were sent to Mr. Robert Giacomini and to the County of Marin Planning and enforcement division, by the Tomales Bay Association, Environmental Action Committee of West Marin, and the Point Reyes Village Association.
In December of 2000, Mr. Giacomini was informed by the County that he would need to apply for a series of permits, including a Use Permit, after-the-fact building permit, coastal exclusion, design review exemption, and possibly others as the process and investigation continued.
Issues were repeatedly raised by the environmental groups and various County staff regarding discharge of industrial waste, a lack of a complete description of the cheese making facility, no verification of a legal water source, proof of food processing permits, concerns of sewage ponds next to creeks, adequacy of the existing septic system, and on.
Perhaps most importantly for a retail dairy/cheese business is the cleanliness and legality of the water system used for food production. According to public documents, there are three water sources on the Giacomini Ranch; two water wells in the cow pastures which have no documentation and have not been certified or tested for human use, and the third is an illegal hook up to a private pipeline that runs through the Martinelli and Doughty Ranches where it taps into a North Marin Water District (NMWD) main on Highway One. The private pipeline is not known to be tested for water quality, or bacterial or coliform contamination as is required by public health laws for a potable water source.
NMWD sent the County a letter stating that they are not responsible for the quality of water through private pipelines, and that the Giacomini Ranch must enter into its own water purchase/contract. The Doughty Ranch has a contract and non-transferable water rights to NMWD water which could be invalidated by the illegal hook up the Doughty's have allowed to the Giacomini Ranch.
Note: According to the Sheriff's report log, an incident of vandalism occurred recently on the Martinelli property, where an unknown person or persons cut the Martinelli's NMWD water line under cover of darkness.
The permit situation been never been resolved, or pursued by the County, nor has all information been provided to even complete the permit application. It has been two years since the complaints were lodged. Despite repeated requests, it still not known what water source is being used for the cheese making facility. All the while, the commercial production of blue cheese has been allowed to continue without necessary public health permits which protect the health and welfare of consumers.
"The file reflects that the County of Marin has leisurely and leniently processed this application, while apparently at all times permitting the project and process to go on," states Mr. Brekhus.
Interestingly, the Giacomini Cheese Facility's website advertises use of raw milk in the production of the cheese, and provides information for purchasing and shipping outside the State of California-it is a violation of Federal Food and Drug laws to transport raw milk products across state lines.
Political favoritism seems to be rampant in Marin County government. Any experienced "County watcher" has seen it time and again, from large subdivisions being approved in backroom deals, individuals being exempted from permit review, endless extensions of time for compliance of violations, and the list goes on.
Even prior Civil Grand Jury investigations have turned up evidence of corruption and favoritism, yet the County refuses to take them seriously, and does virtually nothing to rectify the situation. Perhaps this next Grand Jury investigation into the West Marin Ranch permit/political favoritism situation will be strong enough to finally get people's attention.
Selective enforcement of the law by local government leaders is no way to win or keep the confidence of the good citizens of Marin County except for those individuals who have received political favors.
As Mr. Martinelli unreservedly asserts, "Something is rotten in west Marin and it is not the cheese."
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