“I should not have to pay for them to correct their errors,” Vincent Cal said while testifying during the first day of the trial surrounding his market in Greenwood. “I have no objection to the normal fees.
Cal, 72, and his attorney, Steve Tapson, believe El Dorado County improperly rezoned the parcel containing Cal’s Market, where, by his own admission, he was operating without a business license or health license. But, Cal said, that’s due to the parcel being zoned as residential.
Deputy district attorney Michael Pizzuti, meanwhile, sought to prove that it was Cal in the wrong.
Pizzuti opened the trial by calling Jim Wassner, a code enforcement officer for the county, to the stand. Wassner, a building inspector since 1990, has spent the past 15 years in code enforcement.
Wassner testified that he had received a complaint that a store was being operated that was not zoned properly, so he began doing research. He found it was not properly zoned to be a business and it did not have a business license, instead being zoned as R1A. He said that meant it was residential, about 1 acre, and it had an “agricultural twist.” A residential zone, he later said, allowed a dwelling and buildings such as garages, pools or sheds. “It literally lists what you are allowed to have by right,” he said. He concluded, based on his research, “It was not in compliance.”
He made an on-site visit on Dec. 3, 2010. After identifying himself, he spoke with Cal, “who stated he had a permit. There were two on the wall, from the state.” One was for tobacco sales, the other for sales tax. “None from the county.” However, Cal said he had spoken with the county, and getting the parcel rezoned was “expensive and it would take a long time.” Cal told him it would take $20,000 and 18 months. The market owner told him that he “didn’t have the money or the time, so he opened the store anyway.”
Wassner also noticed that the building had a new deck, with brand-new lumber. He didn’t find any records of permits for the deck in his research, which constituted a misdemeanor.
After Cal said he was adamant about not closing the store, Wassner left. He returned on Dec. 7, already having advised Cal to shut the store down or risk facing citations and worse. As he didn’t want to issue the citation on the first visit, he gave Cal time to think it over. But Cal had not ceased operations.
“Is it fair to say Vince Cal flunked the attitude test?” Tapson asked.
“Oh no, not at all,” Wassner replied. “He was very pleasant.” Despite this, Wassner was given no choice in the eye of the law.
“I wrote an administrative citation for operating the business and for the deck,” Wassner said. He noted that there was a 10-day period to challenge the citation, and it went unchallenged. On Jan. 8, 2011, a month later, Wassner contacted the Sheriff’s Department to issue a misdemeanor citation.
The citation was issued that day by deputy Terri Cissna. She had also been present for the latter half of Wassner’s first visit to the market, she said. She testified that the multiple times she had been there, including on a verbal dispute call on Nov. 19, 2011, as well as the 10 or so times per month she drove by, it was still operated as a market. Indeed, the number of products offered grew from visit to visit, she said.
Next, Sander Thomas, a health inspector for the county, was called to the stand. He said he inspects “Any place that sells food,” including Cal’s Market. He was made aware of the market in January 2011 and wrote a letter to the landowners, Jack and Avis Prince, that there were no health permits for operating a store selling food. He also sent the letter to Cal and other county government entities.
Although he received a call from the landowners, the letter to Cal came back as undeliverable. So he went to deliver it by hand.
On Feb. 18, he gave Cal the letter, telling him he lacked the proper permits to sell food, such as the hot dogs and food from a crock pot Cal was selling. He testified that Cal indicated he would like to obtain those permits “and inquired what the procedure would be.” But there was no business license, a requirement for the permits. Otherwise he would submit an application, a layout of the store and pay a fee.
Thomas returned on June 14, posting a notice of closure on the door of the market, ordering it closed immediately and informing Cal of the violation. He returned again on Aug. 5, only to find the store still open. He visited the market “four or five times in September,” where he found the hot dogs below the state-mandated temperature for hot foods. He noted the lack of certain sinks required by law. The refrigerators, however, were found to be the proper temperature.
After going over the full procedure of obtaining the health and food permits, Thomas was excused from the stand.
Tapson then gave his opening statement, noting that Cal had done research on the matter, and found the rezoning illegal. He called Cal to the stand.
Cal gave a brief history of how he came to Greenwood, riding his motorcycle through the town to visit his grandfather and often stopping at the market as a rest stop. Some 50 years later, when he saw the market going into foreclosure, he bought it with the help of his sister, Avis Prince, and her husband. He thought it would be a good way to support his retirement, he said.
He did try to get a business permit in October 2009, but the Planning and Zoning Commission wanted $6,000 plus $100 per hour of research, which could take more than two years. He worked with Ron Briggs, district supervisor, but Cal refused the contract. It wasn’t his mistake to rezone the parcel to residential, he said. Zoning and Planning didn’t listen to him.
“The only way to get it done was to open it and see what happens,” he said. “I’d hate to give up my retirement to the Courthouse.”
He reiterated that he had no problem paying the fines and fees — except to rezone. He made the deck so people could safely get in the store, and he couldn’t get a permit for it without a business permit, he said.
He was also never told what to do to get all the permits, Cal told Pizzuti, other than that he had to close to store. “Did you close the store?” Pizzuti asked. “No, I did not,” Cal responded.
Although Thomas told Cal he was not in compliance, Cal said Thomas never gave him the letter and that “I wouldn’t have a problem being in compliance” if he had a business permit, and that he had “heard more (about the process) today in court” than he had previously. “I can’t comply if I can’t get a permit.”
Cal also noted that he had been requested to go to jail or alternative sentencing. He continued to run the store.
After a lunch break, Tapson called Roberta Shamley to the stand. Shamley was raised in Greenwood, moving out in 1952. Her parents had owned the grocery store, then also a post office, since the late 1930s. It was then leased to the Franz family in 1948 or 1949, she said, before being sold to the Kemp family in 1954. “From the time my mother died, I never heard of any change of the township,” she said, referring to zoning.
She was excused. The trial will continue Tuesday, Aug. 28, at 8:30 a.m.