Virginia Graziani

Redwood Times

The Shelter Cove Resort Improvement District (RID) board of directors voted unanimously to send a letter to Humboldt County officials asking for code enforcement action on a list of 15 top-priority alleged violations at their meeting last Thursday, Feb. 21.

The RID's letter gives county staff 60 days to respond. If there is no response in 60 days, the district will “seek legal advice.”

Last Thursday's meeting drew about two-dozen members of the public. The agenda included RID's budget guidelines and the process for hiring a new general manager as well as ongoing problems stemming from unpermitted development and violation of county zoning ordinances and building codes.

County officials including Sheriff Mike Downey, former Supervisor Clif Clendenen, John Verbeck from the County Department of Environmental Health, and Jeff Conner, Humboldt County's only code enforcement officer, met with the RID and concerned Shelter Cove residents last October.

Since then board member Nannette Corley has been talking to Connor about how to help the county to act on the complaints. Connor told her that a prioritized list of specific problem properties from the RID would be more effective than multiple complaints from individuals. Also, the complaints are more likely to carry weight if the RID stands behind them.

Although Connor suggested a list of 10, after conversations and emails with residents, Corley made up a list of 15.

Many, but not all, of the alleged violations stem from marijuana grows. These problems include spills of diesel and sewage, pollution of creeks - including Telegraph Creek, Shelter Cove's major domestic water source - with fertilizers and pesticides.

Another hazard comes from unpermitted and improperly placed water tanks. Speakers described tanks situated on steep slopes without retaining walls to support the ground beneath them. During a landslide these tanks could come loose and cause damage to homes and infrastructure below them.

In some cases property owners who live outside Shelter Cove have their workers camping on their sites seasonally without water or sanitation. In one case, owners of a house under construction at the end of a cul-de-sac have difficulty accessing and parking near their home site because of the large numbers of vehicles on the street, vehicles apparently associated with a grow scene.

Additionally, because of the nationwide publicity Humboldt County is receiving as a haven for the marijuana industry, residents are increasingly concerned a potential rise in violent crime, as outsiders come to the area to rob grow sites.

Many speakers at the meeting complained that the sheriff can do nothing about these problems because these are legal medical marijuana grows. But the problems can be addressed as public nuisance, health, and safety problems through the code enforcement process.

Since residents aired their complaints to county officials last October, some people have been threatened, noted board chair Susie Fox. Corley added that people who complain are being told they should “get used to it.”

One member of the public pointed out that the county had acted quickly to abate a problem when Child Protective Services stepped in. She suggested that when making complaints, people should look for possible violations of health and safety codes, particularly in places where there are children.

”The problem is we have no leverage,” said another speaker. All the county agencies “point fingers at each other,” indicating that responsibility belongs to another department.

”We need to give them an ‘ah-ha' moment,” she said, and suggested that the RID threaten a lawsuit against the county for failing to take action on the citizen complaints.

Board member Roger Bodecker noted that the remedy is a “writ of mandamus,” an order from a court to a public body that it must perform a certain duty.

The question is whether the RID is willing to devote district resources and money to take this legal action, Bodecker said. They will need to document violations and demonstrate that the county has failed to act according to its legal responsibilities. 

The county will contend it has inadequate resources, Bodecker continued. If McKinleyville has problems, those problems have a higher priority than Shelter Cove because it is a much larger and more densely populated area.

”If we sue them and McKinleyville doesn't, we may rise higher on the priority list,” a member of the public responded.

Members of the public also suggested that the RID's letter should not only specify that the district is seeking legal advice, but copies should be sent to all appropriate agencies, including the county planning and building department, the department of environmental health, the sheriff, child protective services, animal control, the state Regional Water Quality Control Board, the Department of Fish and Wildlife, the federal Environmental Protection Agency and the Drug Enforcement Agency.

Following an hour of discussion, Bodecker moved to send a letter with the list of alleged violations, giving the county 30 days to investigate the complaints and adding that the RID would seek legal advice if it did not receive a satisfactory response within 60 days.

The general feeling was that Connor and other county officials have already seen the sites that are the sources of complaints, so that the time frame should be adequate.

The board then voted 4 to 0 in favor, with board member Michael Caldwell absent.