Wednesday, April 23, 2014

No winner in property dispute


PROPERTY OWNER Richard Johnson sits on a bench next to his motor home and fifth wheel. Democrat photo by Shelly Thorene

From page A1 | May 20, 2013 | 11 Comments

Richard Johnson, 79, said he’s living in an America he doesn’t recognize anymore after tussling with the county over what he says is an infringement on his property rights.

The owner of 5 acres of land in Shingle Springs that he’s owned since 1965, Johnson said his plan was to eventually build a home here. But like a lot of people, he was hurt when the economy took a nosedive. In 2007, he lost his business handling Internet-based reservations for people visiting Hawaii. At the time he was living aboard a boat in Hawaii and traveling back and forth between the islands and the mainland.

In 2008, Johnson moved back to the county on a part-time basis and began clearing the land for a house site. But it turned out to be a bigger job than he thought.

“I didn’t know it would cost this much,” he said, saying that he has spent $60,000 so far clearing out the trees and other vegetation while living in an RV and fifth wheel parked on the property. He said he actually only lives there during the summer and the rest of the time he spends with his son in Bay Point or in Hawaii.

But his plans for the property abruptly changed on April 5 when Jim Wassner, senior code enforcement officer for El Dorado County, paid him a visit.

Johnson claims Wassner told him, in effect, to get off his own property because he was in violation of different building and zoning codes.

“It’s kind of a shock. On what you think is your land, you paid for and a county official says you can’t live here, camp here, stay here overnight, or store items until you pay us a permit fee of $40,000 or $50,000, but could go higher depending on the kind of house that’s built. If you’re an elderly person, and a vet, and a person talks to you like that, you get riled,” he said.

Johnson said the county only got wind of his living on the property after a neighbor complained about a possible septic tank spill. The neighbor apparently thought it came from his fifth wheel or RV unit. He said she may not have understood that neither has a septic tank.

Johnson said refuse water and waste are stored in tanks underneath the units until they are emptied commercially with each unit having both a gray and a black tank. He said he uses the water from the gray tank to water his plants. The refuse in the black tank has to be pumped out with it last being pumped out about three years ago.

“It is just not a problem in reality … but to some in the county it is a big deal,” Johnson said.

Johnson claims his neighbors didn’t smell a spill from a septic tank. Instead he believes the foul odor came from a plant called Viburnum titus. A plant that at the end of its bloom has an odor variously described as resembling that of a septic tank or skunk.

“That’s what they were smelling,” he said. “This is a strange group of events all due to this plant that smells like poop.”

“My situation is that I live on Social Security,” he added. “I have some savings but am living on my successes of the past and am faced with a county enforcer telling me I have to move my RV and fifth wheel off the property. If not, I’ll be guilty of a misdemeanor and they can throw me in jail or confiscate my possessions.”

“There is a culture in the county of honest, good, hard-working people doing tasks that they know are wrong,” he said. “I felt this when I was talking to county staff regarding fees. Generally you find that most people have no idea that a county official can go on your property and tell you, you can’t use it unless you pay them a fee. And I’m talking tens and tens of thousands of dollars … I’m looking for a voice that says this is wrong. We’ll fix it. This is not how we treat elderly people, those who’ve been in the service. I feel violated and bullied.”

On the other side of the issue are county ordinances meant to protect the public. Wassner said this is a straight up case of zoning and building code violations.

“You can’t have vehicles on property that doesn’t have a septic system unless it’s a hardship case where the person already has a home on the property or is building a home,” he said. “There are ways to get a permit but it doesn’t look like he meets any of the requirements.”

The notice to correct originally gave Johnson a deadline of the middle of May, listing three different misdemeanor violations: having a trailer and motor home occupied without the required permits; lack of an approved septic system; and storage of RV’s on a parcel zoned RE-5 in violation of the zoning ordinance.

Johnson has since asked for a year’s delay in code enforcement to sort out his alternatives, but Wassner informed him he either has to get a permit or remove the units from his property in the next 60 to 90 days.

In the meantime, Johnson has contacted a lawyer.

Contact Dawn Hodson at 530-344-5071 or Follow @DHodsonMtDemo on Twitter.


Discussion | 11 comments

  • TerrificMay 20, 2013 - 5:58 am

    Nice to see everyone getting along - neighbors vs neighbors, code enforcement and lawyers. Sadly, just another day in El Dorado County...

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  • Chuck HollandMay 20, 2013 - 10:07 am

    It's a sad situation any way you look at it. This gentleman is 79 years old, and basically homeless except for his RV, parked on his own property.

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  • francescaduchamp@att.netMay 20, 2013 - 11:25 am

    wow this is so are happening across the nation. I am not a government person--hopefully some government person who reads this blog--helps this man...what happen to honoring our seniors.

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  • 1036-FrankMay 20, 2013 - 4:43 pm

    Should be able to grant a waiver for a property owner, a veteran, and anyone who is a US citizen who owns property and has paid their taxes should be able to stay in their RV as a living alternative unit on any five acre parcel. Wonder if he put in a septic system if he could stay, why the 50-60k price tag for what? The BOS needs to do something here.

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  • Blynda Bliesa, Shingle SpringsMay 20, 2013 - 5:18 pm

    This seems fairly simple to me - we elect people to represent us & protect our rights - part of this equation is that our government must figure out what the best path for us to follow. If the situation were reversed & this man's neighbors were flagrantly breaking the law what would he do?? The idea that that no harm equals no foul, does not give anyone the right to do whatever they want on their own property or anywhere else - the rules are put in place so we can live together in harmony. A lot of these laws are enacted for own good contemplating things beyond the understanding of the common man. Just because we don't get why this man has to do this or that does not mean that the laws are any less valid. You don't need to understand the physics of why a hot stove to know that it will hurt if you touch it. I say we all follow the rules we will all be happy. Those fees & taxes are there for a reason - conserv-tards argue that point in order to fill their pockets - being a bet doesn't instantly make you a hero as we all serve our country in one form or another. Living part of year in Hawaiia makes this guy sound like a 1%er.

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  • EvelynMay 20, 2013 - 5:30 pm

    If it's true that Mr. Johnson can "live here, camp here, stay here overnight, or store items" provided he pays the County $40,000 - $50,000, then it seems like the County has no actual objection to any of those activities. They're merely demanding a steep tax to cover their salaries and whatnot. Bureaucracy is expensive!

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  • anonMay 20, 2013 - 5:56 pm

    He states he hasn't had his black water tank pumped in "about" 3 years. Hmmmm, I don't think it is a plant that the neighbors are smelling! There is no way an RV's holding tank could hold all the waste from 3 years. I don't care how elderly he is, or whether he is a vet, but if he was my neighbor, I would be concerned about raw sewage being released. Seems like there is a simple solution - if he is planning on building a house, he is going to need a septic tank. Have a septic tank installed, and then there are no health or environmental issues with raw sewage being released from the RV's. If he can't afford to have a septic tank installed, he'll never be able to afford to have the house built - sorry, but that's the way it is.

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  • 1036-FrankMay 20, 2013 - 6:34 pm

    RV's are usually easily mobile, they can dump their waste as needed which should be allowed for property owners who live seasonally on their property. Their septic for full timers is easily dealt with when a tank is put in on land, the septic tank issue seems no-where near a 50-60k bill. This county has increased fees beyond belief to cover bogus salaries and positions and has caused a number of small land owners to sell out and leave and there will be many more as these fees devalue land for small parcel owners who will never build with these fees, I guess that is what is wanted, he will sell out I am sure soon and say good riddance to this mess.

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  • Playing the vet cardMay 21, 2013 - 7:03 pm

    Wow, Johnson, So because you are old and a vet, you get to make your own rules. Hmmmm... We too are vets and are ashamed you would use your ex-military backgrond to excuse your law breaking. We also built 20 years ago but we played by the rules and went to planning, and figured what area we could afford to build in, and inquired about what was allowed or not. Any fool knows this. Building codes have been around for many years. I'm sure your your law abiding neighbors do not want your stinking RV driving property values down (nor do they want to smell it). You are going to lose in court as the laws are very clear. Also, you dont have money to build but you have money for attorneys? You are a litigious idiot. If you want to live off grid, Shingle Springs is not appropriate. And really, a poop plant?

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  • Richard JohnsonMay 22, 2013 - 7:19 am

    Thank u all for leaving a comment to this article because they really show the diversity of opinions in our county. Many believe that working together, understanding and education on issues contributes to the quality of our lifestyles, and reduces pre-judgements and narrow mindedness. Information is one of the keys. For instance, some motorhomes have incinerator toilets that burn one poop to a teaspoon of ash and supported by the EPA. Many counties have approved such systems for homes. The typical septic system (invented in France in 1860) costs 12000.00 to 16,000.00. An incinerator toilet costs 1100.00 to 1600.00. Local rv black tank dump sites are at KOA and the Cameron Park Shell Station. When an rv pulls into the station to buy gas they sometimes dump their black tanks. after a fill up. There really is a plant that smells like poop every spring. So, if u learned proves information can improve understanding and maybe reduce the narrow. thinking that is found in some people. Hopefully, we all can learn to live together and look at life through a piece of glass instead of a mirror that is only a reflection of ourselves. God Bless Eldorado County and the many good people who live, love and die here. aloha rj

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  • RebekahJune 29, 2013 - 5:55 pm

    Why is Shingle Springs "inappropriate" for living off grid?? Anyone?

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