During today’s regular meeting, the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors voted to revoke a Coastal Development Permit for a residential property in Fields Landing following nearly two decades of neighborhood complaints and numerous building violations.
The county’s Code Enforcement Unit issued its first “substandard housing notice and order” at Gerald McGuire’s Fields Landing property in 2004, following numerous complaints from neighbors regarding the construction of an unpermitted structure and “junk being left on the property,” the staff report states. Since 2013, code enforcement has issued numerous notices against the property for construction violations, including working without a valid/current permit and violation of the county’s building, plumbing and electrical codes.
In November 2021, McGuire obtained a Coastal Development Permit to clean up the property and resolve ongoing issues with the county’s Code Enforcement Unit. The permit allowed for the demolition of an existing unpermitted 1,700-square-foot house and the construction of a 788-square-foot, two-story garage with a one-bedroom accessory dwelling unit on its second floor.
A few months after demolition was completed in April of 2022, the county received several complaints about the condition of the property, including the “accumulation of junk, solid waste, scrap, miscellaneous items and debris,” according to the timeline of events compiled by code enforcement.
Over one year later, the property is still a mess. Planning and Building Director John Ford shared a few dozen pictures of the property – taken between February and July of this year – during today’s meeting. The pictures show piles of lumber, tarps and other building materials strewn throughout the property, much of which can be seen from the street.
“The reason we’re requesting the revocation of the Coastal Development Permit is because, at this point, the applicant has been unable to bring the site into a condition that is clean and tidy,” Ford said. “When it comes to requesting a revocation, that’s not something that we take lightly in the Planning Department. It really is something that comes about as a last-ditch effort. … In this particular case, the reason that we’re requesting the revocation of [the Coastal Development Permit] is because [it] is not being used for the intended purpose.”
McGuire argued that the pictures were not current and said, “Everything’s cleaned up.” He added that the site would have been cleaned up years ago if it weren’t for code enforcement preventing him from doing so.
“Code enforcement came down and specifically told the [Planning and] Building Department, after my pre-site inspection, to stop working on that property. A year went by … [and] I couldn’t even pick up anything on that property,” he said. “Yeah, it looks like a mess, but it’s not like that anymore. … There’s no trucks, there’s no equipment, there’s no vehicles down there; it’s all been taken away.”
McGuire added that he had obtained three building permits through the county. Ford pushed back on his claim, noting, “That building was never permitted.”
First District Supervisor Rex Bohn asked whether McGuire had copies of the building permits. McGuire said he did, but he wasn’t sure if he had them with him. He noted that he had stamped copies at home.
“There’s a stamp when they receive it, that’s not an approval,” Bohn said. “The problem I’m having right now is I’ve got a Planning and Building Director that says you don’t have permits, and you’re saying you have a permit somewhere.”
“You can call the building department and they’ll tell you I have permits,” McGuire said.
“I got him right here,” Bohn said, referring to Ford.
“He doesn’t know what he’s talking about,” McGuire said.
Third District Supervisor Mike Wilson interjected to note that “even if [the building] permit exists somewhere out there” it is not related to the matter at hand.
“This is the revocation of a Coastal Development Permit, and it’s separate from whatever those entitlements may or may not be,” he said. “I really don’t think that that’s germane to this discussion, whether or not those permits exist or don’t exist.”
Speaking during public comment, one of McGuire’s neighbors, a woman who identified herself only as Cristy, said the property has been a mess for the last 14 years and asked the board to revoke the permit.
“I feel a responsibility for the community of people down here that are hardworking individuals that are just fed up and tired,” she said. “We’ve had years and years of sympathy and understanding for him and, you know, I realize that everybody falls on hard times. It’s not in any way a personal vendetta, but at some point, we ask that the supervisors put themselves in [the] shoes of the individuals that have to live next to him and deal with this every day.”
McGuire’s attorney Michael Acosta argued that revoking the permit would cause “further stagnation of this problem.”
“At this point, [he’s] cleaned that portion up that is clearly a public nuisance,” Acosta said. “Beyond that, what’s happening on the property is that Mr. McGuire has been frustrated in his endeavor by the building department’s lack of accommodation of his plans.”
Following public comment, Second District Supervisor Michelle Bushnell asked Ford to explain the next steps of the process and whether McGuire would have the opportunity to apply for another building permit once the property is cleaned up.
“Just to be clear, the Notice of Abatement has been served. The Notice of Violation has been served so [the next step] would actually be abating the property,” Ford said. “Either he would clean up the property or the county’s in a position where it will.”
After a bit of additional discussion, Wilson made a motion to approve staff’s recommendation to revoke the Coastal Development Permit. Bohn seconded the action.
The motion passed in a 4-0 vote, with Fifth District Supervisor and Board Chair Steve Madrone absent due to jury duty obligations.
Before adjourning to closed session, Bohn suggested Ford and McGuire meet outside board chambers to discuss the next steps “since everybody’s on premises.”