An angry man called Karen Ottoboni’s public affairs program on KZYX last Friday.
“Talking about marijuana growing in this county, here’s a scandal. In Rancho Navarro we are an association here of homeowners. How on earth does the building department — the building department! — put a permit out for a 9,000 square foot indoor garden in Rancho Navarro? This place doesn’t have a house. They don’t intend to be residents. They just want to grow marijuana for southern California. 9,000 square feet! That’s the permit they gave. And the Supervisors and the building department should be put in jail for this crap! And yet no one says anything. The Board of Directors up here [in Rancho Navarro] says, ‘Oh, We can’t do anything because the building department says it’s fine.’ You tell me! You tell me how we’re going to put up with people trying to live up here? People are scared to death up here because of the sudden appearance of people who have no business up here but to grow marijuana. They scowl at people. They drive too fast up and down the roads. They build a legal road into their property. And yet the building department — hey-ho! We can’t stop this. The building department has issued the permits. And in the deeds, the CC&Rs (covenants, conditions and restrictions) for Rancho Navarro the primary purpose is one residential structure, rural residential, per ten acres. Any business activity must be purely incidental — incidental — to your living on your property. Now you tell me what’s going on with the Building Department. 9,000 square feet."
Ottoboni commiserated, “It’s a tough one.”
The caller continued, “You’ve got neighbors who are living in proximity to this who are scared to death.”
Ms. Ottoboni, who lives deep in dope country on the Y Ranch near Yorkville, and has been known to pack a .357 at harvest time, blandly, if not blithely, commented, “I don’t know the level of concern the neighbors have about the violence issues. These people are up front with the county. Hopefully, there wouldn’t be any violence involved. But it’s still a nuisance. It’s the impact on your community. On the roads, and all that.”
The caller wasn’t finished: “You can’t build a 10 x 10 toolshed up here without having a permit from the Association. And the Association will sit there and tell you you can’t build a fence, you can’t have certain kinds of buildings on your property, you can’t cut a tree… But then they turn around and they say, ‘Oh, we can’t do anything about these people because the 9,000 square foot garden, indoor garden, has been permitted by the County. Go to the County if you have a problem. I’m just putting this out here because I’m fit to be tied. This County is full of hypocrites! You watch. Colfax, who is the area representative on the Supervisors? He’s not going to do anything! He’s not going to do anything! At the very least somebody should be taken to the woodshed at the Building Department!”
Ottoboni assured the caller, “We’ll follow up on that.”
The property in question is thirteen mostly vertical acres at the dead end of Appaloosa Way, Rancho Navarro, a discreet sub-division hidden away at the redwood forest end of Anderson Valley about fifteen miles from Boonville. The disputed property belongs to a commercial fisherman named Bill Hargrave who lives in San Pedro where he also owns a thriving live bait shop.
Hargrave, a man in his late 50s, insists the charges that he’s growing marijuana there are “a farce.” He says that he’s simply putting in an organic garden, and that he does indeed plan to live next door to his green house. In earlier statements to local authorities Hargrave said he’d be growing “pre-historic” plants in his green house.
The Appaloosa farce was in its early stages when Rancho Navarro first heard of archeological botany which, as it turns out, is much less farcical than anybody thought. Hargrave does indeed raise rare African palms, which indeed are ancient and rare, so rare they can no longer be imported from Africa where they are now protected from export. Hargrave runs a side business propagating the palms.
The fisherman bought the property from the University of California last January for $139,000. The university had listed its precipitous gift at $239,000. Hargrave was the only bidder and got it for almost half, which seems to have enabled him to invest the money thus saved in the property itself which, incidentally, Hargrave first learned about from another old fisherman friend from San Pedro who happens to own a nearby parcel.
The university had obtained the Appaloosa acres by bequest. It is likely the donor assumed it would remain undeveloped or, if developed, would resemble the modest, and mostly hidden, homes of Rancho Navarro’s many full-time residents. It was, after all, a very steep, roadless hillside with no known water, no electricity, no buildings, and only one little knob of an outcropping large enough to build something on if you could get a road to it.
Hargrave was undaunted. He proceeded to obtain building permits for two structures, and soon completed both of them, a greenhouse and a combination barn and shop adjacent to the green house. Hargrave hired local contractor Steve Mize, who is also his neighbor at the foot of the property on its Comptche Road end, which is Rancho Navarro’s west boundary. Mize put in an all-weather road from the top of the thirteen acres which winds about half way down to the knob, which Mize expanded by some adroit excavation to house the greenhouse and barn and, Hargrave says, his eventual home.
Fisch Brothers drilled a well at the bottom of the parcel which came up with an amazing, especially for historically parched Rancho Navarro, 60 gallons per minute.
“There is no marijuana of any kind on my property whatsoever!” thundered Hargrave last Friday from San Pedro. “We’re putting in a fantastic organic garden.”
Hargrave said he has a friend watching the development of his property and overseeing the work. The friend lives in a trailer near the greenhouse and barn, both of which are clearly visible from the Appaloosa cul de sac above. “She takes good care of everything,” he says.
Hargrave said that soon after he bought the property he received letters from neighbors saying that he had “purchased their grassy knoll” where they had previously walked their dogs and to which they’d enjoyed unimpeded access for many years. “There’s nothing I can do to preserve a grassy knoll where my house is going to be,” explained Hargrave. “I do plan to put a house there, and I will continue on with that.”
The fisherman noted that he has already completed an expensive “non-conforming” septic system for his proposed house, which means he had to hurdle more than a few bureaucratic obstacles to get permission to do it. He also said he’s currently working on getting hooked up to PG&E’s grid, which will cut down on the noise from the generator he now uses to power his green house.
The traffic the neighbors complain about, Hargrave says, is from the various contractors traveling to and from the site. He said he has had “problems” with some of the neighbors virtually since the day he bought in. One neighbor complained about some limbs severed from trees on the property’s perimeter while the road construction was under way. Another neighbor complained about the Hargrave project to the Rancho Navarro Road Association Board of Directors, which held up work for about a week while the directors considered the complaints. But the board soon gave Hargrave a go-ahead, declaring that he wasn’t in violation of any of the Association’s rules.
“There’s no way anyone is doing anything marijuana-related without my knowledge,” Hargrave said. “I can see the parcel from end to end, and if anything like that was going on we’d see it.”
Hargrave says the people who are complaining are the same people who complained about the severed tree limbs, and who said he hadn’t obtained permission from the Association, nitpickers who don’t like the new traffic in the neighborhood. “I dealt all along with the County,” explained Hargrave, noting that he’s gone through all the county’s permit processes whereas some of his neighbors “don’t even have building permits. They don’t have legal septic systems, ok?”
The San Pedro man also paid to settle a property line dispute with a neighbor who complained that the new road Mize put in was on the neighbor’s property. Mize was sure the road was on Hargrave’s property. When the survey was done it not only showed that Hargrave’s road was on his own property, but that one of the neighbor’s roads was on Hargrave’s land, and that other roads the neighbor built to access that neighbor’s property were also on Hargrave’s property. “And they built fences on my property too,” added Hargrave. “I have not taken any action, never asked them to remove anything, not in any way. But these people are vindictive toward me for buying this grassy knoll and for not leaving it as their private dog park. I think people are making up these marijuana charges because they just don’t like that I’m developing the property,” said the fisherman
Navarro contractor Steve Mize mostly agrees with Hargrave, saying that as far as he can tell the neighbors are mainly upset by the construction activity and the traffic generated by that construction. The property had gone unsold for so long, Mize says, because UC Berkeley wanted too much for it, especially given the costs of putting in a road, developing a well and installing a septic system, costs that will run $80,000 or more.
Hargrave’s new greenhouse is certainly the source of the marijuana complaints. One neighbor who’s complaining has his own marijuana plantation going. This fellow has told neighbors he’s afraid Hargrave’s greenhouse will draw attention to his operation.
Marijuana production is not unknown at Rancho Navarro, or in any other area of Anderson Valley or Mendocino County for that matter. The “truckloads of pot” people say they’ve seen emerging from the Hargrave property could just as well have been pot grown by Hargrave’s neighbors. “It’s common there,” says Mize. “It’s all on a small scale, 25-50 plants. It’s probably legal; it’s not hard to get permits for that much.”
What about the neighbors who hear a generator running at the greenhouse?
“The generator is not in the greenhouse,” explains Mize. “It’s running the water pump. But that will be converted to PG&E when that’s in.”
“I think it’s a lot of griping for not very much provocation,” said Mize. “Some people just don’t want the neighborhood changed. I’m not real happy about having somebody right above me, but he has the right to build a house and shop on the property. He seems like a nice guy. He’s certainly a good guy to work with. I think the marijuana complaints can get a little overboard at times. People are naturally worried about marijuana, but when you add that charge to these neighbor disputes it can make people even more nervous.”
Several Rancho Navarro residents remain upset about the Hargrave development. So far, these neighbors say, all their complaints to County authorities have been ignored. The County Building Department said Hargrave obtained legal permits and that they don’t ask permitted persons about what they’re growing in their greenhouses. The DA’s office and the Sheriff’s office have told neighbors, “What do you want us to do? They don’t seem to be doing anything illegal.”
“I guess the County just doesn’t care,” said one neighbor. “We can’t get anyone to support us. So we’re not going through with any legal action. We wouldn’t get anywhere. I guess he’s got medical marijuana cards for himself and his friends. The County gets the money for these permits, and that’s all the County cares about.”
Other neighbors have complained about some of Mr. Hargrave’s caretakers, saying one was “rude,” another one “crazy.” Which seems to have been one in the same person, a disturbed woman rumored to be medically diagnosed as “bi-polar.” She is no longer on the Hargrave place. She may have been too much for him, too.
“When we asked one of them to drive more carefully along the road, the caretaker said, ‘You may be my neighbor but I don’t have to fuckin’ like you.’ And he spun off in his nice Dodge truck.”
According to another Rancho Navarro resident, someone claiming to represent Hargrave went to the Association board meeting and said that Mr. Hargrave raises very precious pre-historic plants. Like fossils. “People in attendance just laughed,” said the resident. “These people are just not considerate. It was, just basically, ‘We’re here and we don’t care about you at all’.”
“There’s a lot of whispering about this operation,” said another neighbor. “We don’t really know for sure what’s going on or what he’s going to use the greenhouse for. Some neighbors have approached them to ask, but they were rebuffed.”
The charge that the neighbors’ complaints have been completely ignored by authorities, however, isn’t true. Anderson Valley resident Deputy Keith Squires has been to the property to check it out.
“I was up on top with binoculars looking down at the greenhouse area earlier this year and I saw a bunch of marijuana plants,” said Squires. “Two days later I got in through the lower access and all those plants were moved somewhere. They had them in little groups of 25 with the Prop 215 cards on them. I guess they have five or six cards for people in southern California.”
“It’s obviously a marijuana operation,” says Squires. “It’s not a huge commercial type thing. But we can’t do anything at the moment if he’s below 25 plants per patient. When I got up there they had maybe a hundred plants, but they had five permits. A hundred plants is a lot of plants, but our county doesn’t consider that much of an operation. But they’re definitely growing marijuana in there. I saw all the plants.”