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April, 2006


Mow Town News
Extortion Reigns Supreme
By Judy Borello

Last month the Marin County Planning Commission held a public meeting over the fire road on David Mease and Catherine Salah's property in Nicassio where they are growing grapes.
In November hikers, equestrians, and mountain bikers demanded that the couple hand the fire road over to the County of Marin's Department of Parks and Open Space in the form of a public access easement of which the county would face no responsibility, liability, non-compensation to the couple for people, horses, dogs and trash that result when the public has access to private property. Frank Binney, a member of the San Geronimo Valley Planning Group said, "We don't want the freaks that might be given a dairy ranch or a cattle ranch to be used by people who are doing this kind of development."

First of all, Mr. Binney, I wouldn't refer to a small vineyard as development or characterization of it being "lowly farming" to get your demands met. Second of all, growing grapes is agriculture. Third of all, this pertains more to private property rights be they on ag land or residential land.

How would you like the public demanding access to your backyard and with you being liable for everything-horses, dogs, trash and the bi-products such as horse and dog dung.

The proponents of ag were there to defend the owners right against extortion and the taking of the owners landuse rights. Mike and Sally Gale, Nancy Gates and Marin County Farm Bureau President Sally Pozzi all spoke at this hearing.

The conclusion of this hearing was that the commissioners decided to postpone their decision until late March.

Seventy-five percent of Marin County is off the tax rolls and in open space lands and parks, and the rest of us have to pay for this elitist county and its special interest groups. You talk about socialism, well, we've got it. We bought the carrot and now we're getting the moose. This is the owners reply to the hearing at the Planning Commission.

"We are the owners of the property that is the subject of the article, Valley trail access in dispute, (March 2).

"The article states that those who favor that we be required to dedicate a public easement across our property believe that our 'involvement in agriculture doesn't merit special consideration in the planning process.' We have never requested, nor have we received any 'special consideration' by virtue of our agricultural development. The issue is not whether or not the county can require us to dedicate an easement in light of our agricultural endeavors but, rather, whether the county can legitimately force us to dedicate an easement in exchange for granting us permission to build a home on our land.

The county has already rendered its opinion that it cannot legally do so. In the Staff Report prepared regarding our project, the Community Development Agency explains that easements can only be acquired through the development process by legal means. The Staff Report goes on to state that, in our case, such legal means do not exist.

In support of its determination that conditioning approval of our application on the dedication of an easement is illegal, the CAD cites two United States Supreme Court cases. In one of those cases, Nollen v. California Coastal Commission, Supreme Court Justice Scalia warns that requiring a property owner to give up a property interest just to obtain government permission to build on one's own land constitutes an 'out-and-out plan of extortion.'

Despite the county's acknowledgment of the illegality of requiring an easement across our property, nearly three years have passed since we submitted our application to build a home. As is obvious, we have not been the recipients of any 'special consideration.' The agricultural development of our property has only been raised to further highlight the wrongful insistence by some that we be forced to grant an easement. The insistence that we grant a multi-purpose public trail through our most viable growing areas directly contravenes county codes and policies which promote agricultural development in Marin. The portrayal of our agricultural development by some as "hobby farming" is contradicted by the Countywide Plan which repeatedly extols the virtue of small-scale agriculture. The CWP provides that one-third of all farms in Marin County are 50 acres or less in size. The CWP further states: 'The Census Bureau defines a farm as any agricultural operation with annual sales over $250.00. Farms defined as such represent nearly half (49.6%) of the county's land base.' The sale of a single case of our wine nearly meets the annual requirement.

The Marin County Open Space District owns hundreds of acres of land adjacent to our property. Rather than placing pressure on us to give up valuable property rights that would clearly interfere with our agricultural use of the property, a better solution would be to support the construction of a public trail bypass on that that is already owned by the public.

David Mease and Catherine Salah Nicasio

PS Extortion has been a guise of our county for far too long., Take the Vaslow House some years ago where he had 90 acres and the County demanded in order to grant him one homesite, he would have to put an easement on his property. Then there was the Brucbaker fiasco. He had three home sites by law, but the County was only going to let him build one and then turn the other legal home parcel over to the County as not buildable.

And why is the Park being so secretive about the Giacomini Ranch swap when the taxpayers paid for the land?

The whole thing about this swap defies credibility, openness, and good judgment!

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