Marin judge grants ‘Last Resort’ compound another temporary reprieve
June 9, 2019
By Richard Halstead | firstname.lastname@example.org | Marin Independent Journal
The so-called Last Resort, David Lee Hoffman’s Tibetan-style experiment in sustainable living in Lagunitas, received another stay of execution Friday.
Marin County Superior Court Judge Paul Haakenson warned, however, that this might indeed be Hoffman’s last resort.
Hoffman, who gained notoriety as an importer of exotic teas, has been battling with Marin County for many years over some 36 buildings he constructed without proper permits on his property at 2 Alta Ave. and 230 Cintura Ave.
Hoffman settled on the property in 1973 and modified existing cabin-style residences that had been built in the early 1900s. He also added storage buildings, ponds, retaining walls and ornamental structures — including a full-size replica of a fishing boat suspended in a pond of rainwater — all without permits.
“It is a work of art; it is my life’s work,” Hoffman, who represented himself in court Friday, told Haakenson.
County health inspectors were not impressed, however, by Hoffman’s unpermitted outdoor composting toilet or his kitchen composting system that used worms and a series of open-air moats. They said the moats were a breeding ground for mosquitoes and the toilet threatened the aquifer and nearby streams with contamination from sewage.
Hoffman owes the county close to $1 million in unpaid taxes, fees and penalties, and the cost of retrofitting the structures to bring them into compliance with county code has been estimated at $2.2 million.
In 2015, Haakenson appointed a receiver to manage the property and make the necessary changes, including, if needed, demolishing the unpermitted structures and selling the property to recoup associated costs.
On Friday, Haakenson told Hoffman that a day of reckoning is swiftly approaching. He gave Hoffman 60 days to talk with the county about the possibility of dismissing the receiver and mapping out a plan for paying the money owed and making the necessary changes to make the structures legal.
Haakenson said no matter how sympathetic he might be to Hoffman’s plight he can’t ignore the outstanding violations.
“Unfortunately, this robe doesn’t give me that kind of power,” Haakenson said.
There is, however, a ray of hope for the Last Resort. Last fall, a group of Hoffman’s supporters created the Lagunitas Project, a nonprofit whose main mission is to preserve the Last Resort by transferring ownership of the property to a charitable trust. The Lagunitas Project would serve as trustee.
“We would hope the receiver would step down once the penalties and fees are resolved and the property goes into the trust,” said Paul Seaton, the Lagunitas Project’s executive director.
Seaton said the Lagunitas Project has raised $100,000 so far.
Deputy County Counsel Brian Case told Haakenson on Friday that the county is willing to discuss the possibility of dismissing the receiver and once again working directly with Hoffman on creating a plan to bring the property into compliance.
Haakenson told Hoffman he should appreciate the county’s generous offer to consider turning back the clock.
“If I were you, I’d by crying out in joy,” Haakenson told him.
Haakenson told Hoffman he should also be grateful for the efforts of the receiver, Eric Beatty, who has secured a tentative agreement with federal, state and local regulatory agencies to accept off-site mitigation, instead or requiring him to move his structures out of Cintura and Alta creeks.
To demonstrate that he is serious about negotiating, Hoffman took what he said was $60,000 in cash out of his briefcase and put it on the table in front of him. Hoffman said he has already spent half a million dollars on attorney fees.
Hoffman is hoping that Marin County will accept his bid to apply California Historical Building Code rules to his structures instead of the county’s more stringent building code. Last year, Haakenson rejected a request to validate the Marin County Architectural Commission’s determination in 2016 that all 36 of the Last Resort’s structures have “architectural significance.”
In his tentative ruling, Haakenson wrote that he was not opposed to allowing the restoration of the property under the less onerous regulatory requirements, but the county would have to sign off on such a plan.
While Case said the county is open to discussion of the matter, he said Hoffman has not presented it with any substantive proposal.
Case noted that in a June 7 court filing, the receiver, Beatty, wrote that “The Lagunitas Project does include any discussion of restoration of the altered watercourses across the properties or preservation of the water retention basins or retaining walls at the properties.”
Beatty also wrote in the filing that “The Lagunitas Project provides no offer of funding to the receivership estate for the receiver to complete any of the work needed to move forward with a plan of rehabilitation for any structures or improvements.”
He added, “It is not financially feasible for the receiver to undertake the complicated assessment and documentation process unless the delinquent property taxes are paid in full and the receivership estate is supplied with at least $425,000 in immediate funding.”