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Shaded Parcels

The issue of shaded parcels — properties whose legal status is in doubt — has intensified in Southern Humboldt, where numerous landowners have been put on notice about suspected subdivision violations.

County Planner Cliff Johnson said 25 Briceland area property owners were sent notice letters last month. The county believes one parcel was illegally subdivided into 30 parcels in the mid-1970s, and the batch of letters complies with state law requiring the county to give notice to property owners that evidence of illegal parcel creation has been uncovered.

Though part of an ongoing noticing effort that began last year, when Johnson was hired to work on clearing or confirming shaded parcel cases, the July letters have stirred fears of county enforcement actions.

But Johnson said that if the county confirms illegal subdivisions, they’ll be recorded against property deeds and “the situation remains as it is right now.” Building permits would be denied, but the county will take no enforcement action, he continued.

He described the noticing as a proactive effort to inform landowners of the suspected illegal status of their parcels.

“Unfortunately, with a lot of these, people just never applied for building permits or were told they had shaded parcels and didn’t apply for permits,” he said. “So this is basically our effort to actually notify property owners before they unknowingly come in and try to apply for a permit on a parcel that’s been illegally created.”

The letters inform property owners that although deeds were recorded on their parcels and logged by the Assessor’s Office for taxation, recording of parcel maps with the Planning Department is lacking. If illegal subdivision has occurred, deed conveyances can be voided and building permits will be denied, the letters state.

Meetings with property owners have been set for August 22, when they’ll have the chance to “submit evidence” to “prove that the subject division of land is not in violation.”

The Humboldt Coalition of Property Rights (HCPR) advocacy group has actively opposed the county’s handling of shaded parcels and requested a list of them last year, so it could send letters to affected property owners. There was disagreement about whether the county adequately complied with the request.

In September of 2011, the county sent 1,320 letters giving notice of shaded parcel status. Last April, HCPR sued Humboldt County and is seeking a court order to stop the process. “The suit simply asks the court to say, ‘Stop shading these parcels’ — what it really comes down to is that we’re asking the county to follow the law,” said HCPR Founder Lee Ulansey.

He said Humboldt County has showed “gross negligence” by marking parcels as shaded over the years without notice. “Arguably, what they’re doing now is what they should have done 20 or 30 years ago and their inaction has irreparably harmed hundreds if not thousands of Humboldt County residents,” Ulansey continued. He added, “The county didn’t do what the law required and instead shaded these parcels, so what could have been easily handled 30 years ago is now a nightmare.”

Loans can be jeopardized and estate transfers held in limbo, Ulansey continued. “There are real people and real families that are paying for the county’s screw-up,” he said.

Johnson said that Humboldt County isn’t notified of parcel ownership changes and until recently, staff resources haven’t been adequate to research land titles. He made a distinction between confirmed cases of illegal subdivision — which require noticing — and the uncertain shaded parcel cases which are “the ones we’re trying to tackle now.”

Ulansey supports a different approach. “Instead of spending all this time going after people who’ve been harmed by the county’s gross negligence, they ought to be working on a grandfathering or amnesty program,” he said.

Numerous people are talking about challenging Humboldt County’s actions by filing a collective lawsuit, Ulansey continued. “I would consider it extremely likely,” he said.

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