Some people have asked me why I have told this story of the Anderson Valley Land Trust suing me in the AVA. I’ve had a few people relay that they think my articles are meant to “get back” at the AVLT. I can see why some might decide that’s my goal, and I probably won’t change their minds. But that couldn’t be further from the truth. I don’t enjoy having my business on the front page of the AVA. This was a last option. I’ve volunteered to be on the board of the AVLT and continue to do so. (AVLT president Patrick Miller said no thanks) I still want to help the AVLT fix their issues.
Unlike some (this newspaper, no less!) I like the work that Land Trusts do, and I think they provide an important conservation option for many landowners and communities. That’s what my mother Briana believed and I couldn’t agree with her more. The problem is not Land Trusts; the problem is the management and direction of the Anderson Valley Land Trust. I’m hoping these articles will encourage more open and balanced actions on the part of the AVLT. If I didn’t put these articles in the paper and someone else got sued next, I would be just as complicit as the current and past board members are complicit in the past and current deeds of the AVLT and various board members.
I’ve mentioned a few of the AVLT board members in these articles. The board members are; Steve Wood, Barbara Goodell, Karen Altaras, Jesse Rathbun, David Hopmann, Nancy Horner, Glynnis Jones, and Rachel Turner Williams. But the most important board member is current AVLT president, Patrick Miller. From my understanding, Patrick owns a vacation property in Philo, and has never lived in the Valley. My understanding is that over the past 6 years, Patrick developed a personal dislike of my mother Briana and me. He also stated many times to me personally that he did not like or approve of the commercial property uses that my AVLT contract allowed. My conclusion is that as President, Patrick fabricated and filed the lawsuit against my family as a personal ego driven punishment and retribution. As such, winning or losing the suit and whether the lawsuit claims were fake didn’t matter to him too much. My family would be punished financially and be dragged through hell for several years, win or lose. It cost Patrick nothing.
A few years ago, and even just a year ago during the lawsuit, I would have said this conclusion was a conspiracy theory and obviously other local board members such as Barbara, Steve, Karen and others would step in and stop such a lawsuit if that were the case. In talking with those involved with the AVLT, and Patrick extensively, I now do believe that the other board members assumed Patrick was legitimately acting on my easement contract and were not aware of the legal details of the lawsuit or the false pretenses on which it was contrived and then filed. Examples such as Barbara’s testimony of not knowing the restrictions contained in her very own easement lead me to believe that Patrick alone, and few to no other board members, were aware of the details of my AVLT contract or why Patrick might pursue legal action against me. I’m sure some AVLT board members still believe that Patrick filed the lawsuit to stop real and actually occurring easement violations that he had witnessed personally. I’m sure none of these other board members ever took the time to verify any of Patrick’s statements in his lawsuit. Apathy and ignorance do not excuse the years of torment I’ve endured from this individual and organization in the guise of land conservation.
And I’m willing to admit that even Patrick didn’t fully grasp that his actions were driven by personal animosity. Patrick has proven to me that he is not in full emotional control of his own actions.
On Patrick’s latest visit to my property this past fall, and in a meeting with him and Vice President Steve Wood last summer, the reality of the situation really set in.
This past summer, after the trial was over, and the judge’s ruling final, my wife and I sat down with AVLT vice president Steve Wood and AVLT president Patrick Miller to try for a fresh start. It didn’t go well. One of Patrick’s first comments at that meeting was to threaten to call the county and have them, the county, come to my property to look for code violations. Remember, this was something that the AVLT lawsuit against me had asked for, and been denied. Patrick stated openly that he was very unhappy that my easement contract with the AVLT allowed commercial housing and that the county would come, at his request, and find violations of county code in my housing. I did not and do not find any fear in that threat, since everything on my property conforms to county code. But I was so taken aback at this threat to myself, my wife, and having been stated in front of Steve, with Steve raising no objection or concern, I made a retort in haste; I responded that maybe someone would call the county and report Barbara’s housing code violations. I immediately felt bad. Luckily, I was able to continue the point later in the same conversation. I expressed to Steve and Patrick that I didn’t think it was beneficial or neighborly for anyone to be calling the county on anyone else. They made no similar statement.
A few months later last fall, September 2019, Patrick came to inspect my property, after many requests from me that he not be the one to come to my property, and that the AVLT please send someone else. I’m assuming all those requests were seen only by Patrick, and subsequently denied. Patrick showed up at my property, pulled out a large mallet and quickly began to drive a piece of rebar into the ground for his own benefit (enjoyment?), after I told him he didn’t have my permission or consent to do so. He then began yelling at me at less than 12 inches from my face. Then he put his hand on my shoulder, in what I took as a physical bullying pressure tactic. I twisted to force his hand off me. But he reached out again and took hold of my arm. In shock I said, “Get your hand off me.” And he did. Where this encounter could have gone troubled me deeply. I documented this event and sent it to the AVLT. They responded only to say that my communique was added to my file. It seems possible that no other board members know of this occurrence other than Patrick, the AVLT president, who has controlled all information about my property and lawsuit, and shown only what he chose to show to the AVLT board. But that’s not all on Patrick. Any board member could have chosen to read the lawsuit or my AVLT contract. I’m not aware of any who have other than Patrick. And when Patrick quotes my contract to me, it’s always wrong. I’m not sure if there’s anyone on the board willing to use college level reading comprehension skills on my situation. And if they do have that skill, they have chosen to stay out of it. A choice I’m understandably disappointed with.
The AVLT spent close to 100,000 dollars of donated money to sue me. I spent over 100,000 to defend and win a punitive and frivolous lawsuit with no facts to support it. I sure would have liked to see that money go to the Elder Home Project or towards hiring a community member for real work. But where did the AVLT get that money to sue me? Did it come from me and you?
Part 8, Follow the Money…