Sheriff Mike Downey and outgoing 2nd district supervisor Clif Clendenen met Thursday morning, Oct. 18 with the Shelter Cove Resort Improvement District (RID) to hear out local concerns about unpermitted development and nuisance marijuana grows. Code enforcement investigator Jeff Connor and Environmental Health's John Verbeck were also in attendance, along with roughly forty community members - many of whom had complaints about inadequate enforcement of county ordinances.
”What we're seeing here is no permits being applied for, no structures, no septic, no clear access to water or power,” RID president Mike Caldwell said. “I don't believe it's about pot and 215 - it's about code violations - clear and distinct unpermitted development here in the Cove.”
Board member Nannette Corley made an impassioned case about a recent lack of county code enforcement generating angst among longtime residents of Shelter Cove who have traditionally had to strictly follow the letter of the law. In the year 2000, Corley's property was the subject of an enforcement process - but since the code enforcement unit controversy of 2008 she says she's observed violations of county code going unaddressed.
”Historically, Shelter Cove was so strict that as a property owner if you put a piece of wood on your property and tried to do anything you'd hear about it. Now it's gone the opposite direction, where if you hang a 215 just about anything goes,” said Corley.
”You can hear the frustration,” Caldwell observed. “Can we explore what a possible solution would be? Is there a mechanism there for the community to participate with county to work together on these things?”
Concerned citizens in the audience also pleaded for action. “If the Sheriff's department could come down and just do one thing that hits the paper, that might be a big deal,” one man suggested.
Outgoing 2nd district supervisor Clif Clendenen mentioned the possibility of an ordinance that might enable county personnel to deal with problem grows through a nuisance abatement process, rather than relying primarily on the criminal justice system.
”We're working through that process right now - to put an ordinance into place that will deem certain techniques or growing techniques as a nuisance, not as a violation of state law in the sense of cultivation,” supervisor Clendenen said. He also offered to organize a presentation giving concerned residents of Shelter Cove an opportunity to ask the Humboldt County board of supervisors for help.
”The caveat there is that we've been there and done that,” said Caldwell. “All we do is get to vent. Very little, if anything, actually happens.”
Sheriff Downey offered to assign some of his staff to a collaborative effort with code enforcement, during which county personnel would target the Shelter Cove area, identify unpermitted developments and jumpstart the abatement process on grows deemed to be a nuisance by neighbors - if in fact they violate county ordinances.
”I'm really big on enforcement periods, doing certain targeted enforcement. And I can set up a one or two day enforcement period in conjunction with code enforcement - that's a quick fix,” said Downey.
”But it's a start,” responded Caldwell.
Despite any other contentions, one aspect of the situation about which everyone present seemed to agree was that 2008 marked a turning point in code enforcement efforts. At that time, the code enforcement unit under John Desidere partnered with law enforcement to conduct code compliance checks that quickly became infamous for SWAT-style raids on marijuana grows. As a result of public outcry, Desidere was reassigned and the code enforcement unit was left with only one investigator on staff to oversee the whole county.
”Part of the thing that came out of that 2008 reorganization of code enforcement was that at that time we could open our own cases,” Connor said. “That was taken away from us. So now, code enforcement is entirely complaint driven. If you don't make a complaint, we don't know about it. And even if we do know about it, there isn't anything we can do.”
Concerned residents of the Shelter Cove area were ultimately urged to pressure the board of supervisors to fund another investigator position for the code enforcement unit and report possible code violations to the county so that problem cases can be referred to the CEU.
Other items of interest at Thursday's meeting of the RID included the fish cleaning station and an informational update on planned monitoring of the North Coast Marine Protection Area (MPA) from the Ocean Science Trust's MPA Monitoring Enterprise. That agenda item derailed, however, due to apparent confusion about the MPA Monitoring Enterprise's role in the Marine Life Protection Act (MLPA) process. Further discussion of the fish cleaning station was postponed until next month's RID meeting, as the matter is currently between the property owner and the Humboldt Bay harbor, recreation and conservation district.
REDWOOD TIMES PHOTOS BY DAVE BROOKSHER
1. Roughly forty residents of the Shelter Cove area met at the Resort Improvement District to share concerns with local officials.
2. Left to right: Roger Boedecker, Susan Fox, Michael Caldwell, Dennis Harper, John Verbeck, Jeff Connor, Sheriff Mike Downey, Supervisor Cliff Clendenen at the Shelter Cove meeting.