The county has settled a lawsuit brought more than three years ago by the Humboldt Coalition for Property Rights (HumCPR), a political corporation founded by current Planning Commissioner Lee Ulansey

The suit related to the county’s practice of “shading” parcels of unknown legal status. This shading — a literal shading with pencils on the county’s parcel-book map — was the Community Development Services Department’s way of marking parcels that had been recorded for taxation purposes with the Assessor’s office but, for whatever reason, did not appear as legal parcels with the Planning Department. 

As the Outpost‘s Hank Sims explained back in 2011, roughly six months before the lawsuit was filed, there could be a variety of reasons for such a situation:

It could be — as in the case of Ken Bareilles’ Titlow Hill development — that the land was illegally subdivided. Or it could be something else completely: say, that a land subdivision happened through legal channels and Community Development for some reason didn’t know about it.

HumCPR, or Ulansey, more specifically, alleged that this parcel shading was “bureaucratic overreach” that effectively labeled these parcels as illegal when that was often not the case, and he characterized the county’s process for clearing up each parcel’s legal status as extortion. 

In 2011 the county hired a planner for the specific task of identifying every shaded parcel and notifying the landowners in hopes of working with them to resolve the legal status of their property. 

In announcing a settlement the county says it will “avoid the time and expenses” of a trial without admitting any liability. It also agreed to stop shading parcels, though it will still maintain a list of parcels whose legal status remains unresolved, a rather subtle distinction whose significance escapes us.

Kevin Hamblin, the county’s planning and building director, said he, too, failed to see a meaningful difference between the list and map shading, though he added that he’d just learned of the settlement around noon today.

Here’s the press release issued by the county:

The Humboldt County Board of Supervisors today agreed to settle a lawsuit filed in April 2012 by Humboldt Coalition for Property Rights regarding the county’s practice of “shading” parcels. The settlement will allow the county to avoid the time and expenses associated with trial, and instead focus on providing services to Humboldt County residents.

In September 2011, in an attempt to resolve the shaded parcel issue, the Planning Division sent letters to individuals who owned parcels of land where the legal status of that parcel was uncertain. These parcels were “shaded” in parcel-map books or otherwise noted in county records to indicate that a parcel’s compliance with the Subdivision Map Act is unknown. This lawsuit was filed in the spring of the following year.

According to the settlement, the county: 

  • has ceased its former practice of “shading” parcels and will not perform this practice in the future;
  • will finish reviewing the parcels that received “shaded” parcel letters in September 2011, and will notify parcel owners whether it determined their parcel to be lawful;
  • will, after reviewing the parcels for compliance, maintain a publicly available list of parcels for which the county is unable to resolve its compliance status;
  • will notify owners and carry out appropriate action when it acquires knowledge that property has been divided in violation of the Map Act.

The settlement also agrees that neither party needs to admit liability on this issue. The issue of who bears responsibility for attorneys’ fees will be submitted to the court for resolution.