Did the almost $100,000 the Anderson Valley Land Trust spent to sue me on a contrived and fictitious lawsuit get paid for by you and me? That was the question I posed in Part 7. Quick answer for ya: Yes.
When my family donated a conservation easement to the AVLT, we also had to pay $15,000 to the AVLT for the future work the AVLT would theoretically do to uphold the contract they had signed with us. Unfortunately, they decided that “work” was to spend our $15k on paying a lawyer to sue us. But where did they get the rest of the $100,000? That came from you. Well, maybe not you, if you yourself didn’t donate to them, but it came from your neighbors in Anderson Valley who sent them money for land conservation. I’m willing to bet that most of the kind hearted community members who helped pay to sue me have/had no idea of where their money was going. I’m also willing to bet that some of them might not approve of the way the money was spent or how the AVLT has acted.
And that’s my request to you, my friends and neighbors in Anderson Valley; Please do not give money to the Anderson Valley Land Trust. At this time they will use it inappropriately and not for land conservation. They have used your past donations for lawsuits that were entirely fictitious and a waste of that money. As the AVLT board eventually changes over, I hope that a new board will choose a new direction of focusing on land conservation instead of highly questionable litigation. I hope I can join the board and help them find solid moral footing and at that point, I will be able to once again donate my hard earned money to them, and recommend that you as well once again donate your hard earned dollars. For now, please don’t pay for ridiculously wasteful lawsuits and for denying seniors local housing.
So what’s my advice about putting your land in a Land Trust?
Not that anyone asked, but here it is; for those who might be thinking of putting their land in a Land Trust, I would look at the examples. I would say that the majority of the “successful” or “problem free” easements the AVLT has are on properties that were sold. And that is the main use of land trusts and easements. If you put an easement on your property, you get a tax write off equal to the value of how much you devalued your land with the easement. That’s why most people put an easement on their, let’s say, $1 million valued property, then sell it for 900k since the easement devalued it on the open market by $100k. When they sell the property and get the $900k, they now owe $250k in taxes on the sale. The magic comes with what the IRS values the easement at, usually more than the open market. So the IRS gives the property owner a tax write off of $300k. And so the sale price of $900k gets kept by the seller. No taxes paid. And it’s the next buyer who now has the easement and the AVLT to deal with.
That’s the most common (and maybe the wisest) use of Land Trusts and conservation easements. But there is another type. People like my family and Barbara Goodell.
My family wanted to make sure the redwoods on our property were never clear cut again. So we did our easement with the AVLT. We got a tax write off of almost $400k (the value of the redwoods if clear cut). My mom had no money so she couldn’t use any of that. A tax write-off only helps if you actually have money in the first place. My aunt and uncle who owned half the property with my mom had just retired and sold their house, so they were able to use almost $100k of the tax write off. But no one in my family had enough money to use most of the write off. It went to waste.
But my family wasn’t doing it for the write-off; we were in the minority who does it for environmental and altruistic reasons and doesn’t then sell the property. That’s one of the reasons being sued by the AVLT felt so dirty.
I don’t know if Barbara Goodell used any of her tax write off, and who cares? The similarity from my situation to Barbara’s is that unlike most easements, we kept our property. Barbara kept her property and now, many years later, Barbara started violating the restraints she had placed on herself because she probably still felt that it was her property to use as a responsible owner. (I’m theorizing.) I got sued by Barbara for using my property in a way that was allowed, but the changing members of the AVLT board (and one board member in particular) decided my uses didn’t fit with their vision of the future.
The commonality is that selling your property after putting a conservation easement on it is usually the best for all. The two examples I’m most familiar with of people keeping easement properties, me/Barbara, have not worked out that well.
So my advice is, get on the AVLT board. Volunteer for the AVLT and make it better. But please don’t give them free money to use for lawsuits. That hurts the entire Anderson Valley community and beyond. If you feel like donating money to something I would say donate some money to the Elder Home Project to make up for the lost senior rental unit the AVLT is supposed to be providing to the valley.