From my family’s perspective, the Anderson Valley Land Trust’s lawsuit against us was retaliation and payback.
When the AVLT decided that the location of a motorhome on our property was a violation of our easement, we moved it to a new location on our property to comply with their request. (Remember, their own board member, Steve Snyder, also had/has a motorhome that magically does not conflict with his easement. See Part 4, among others.) After we moved the RV, the AVLT changed their reason to say that it wasn’t the location of the RV that was the problem, but the RV itself, and that it’s mere presence on our property was a violation. This is what’s called “moving the goalposts”. This started to feel retaliatory.
At this same time, and maybe to drive the point home, the AVLT (Patrick Miller) claimed that a travel trailer and a propane tank were also violating our easement. The travel trailer and propane tank had been on our property for decades. (I need to clarify that the trailer and tank were in separate locations, both empty and unused for decades. They were not connected in any way other than the AVLT’s sudden disapproval.) It seemed strange that all of a sudden these items were a violation of our contract when there had been no issue with them ever, and these items predated our easement by decades. Again, it really started to feel like retaliation.
And after we then completely removed the motorhome, and moved the trailer, and moved the propane tank, then we got sued. For all new issues. A golf cart. A Facebook page. It didn’t just FEEL like retaliation anymore, it seemed very clear.
But retaliation for what, you ask? Well, generally, for creating an easement that didn’t align well over time with what the new vacation home owners and presidents of the AVLT personally felt was the “proper” use of our land. And then, primarily, for assertively standing up to those presidents for what we knew was true and part of our contract. The AVLT stopped caring about what our easement said, or about land conservation, and started caring more about not having their authority questioned. It became important to be “in charge”, no matter what a signed contract said. AVLT president Patrick Miller didn’t like us simple folk telling him that we understood our easement better than him. So a judge told him. He didn’t like that either. (Read more at peachlandranch.home.blog)
Our property had been in transition from one generation to the next, and I, as the next generation, was adding value and commercial viability to the property as my family had intended and carefully described in our easement contract. I was fixing fences and making repairs. I was building new housing and adding livestock barns. I was adding agricultural water systems. I was adding structures for storage and maintenance, such as a pump house building at our well and pond. None of these improvements were welcomed by Patrick Miller and the new vacation home owners now running the AVLT. Even though all these improvements were carefully and thoroughly described and allowed by our easement contract. And it really didn’t help that Patrick Miller seemed to personally dislike me and my mother Briana. And of even less help, was that no other AVLT board members seemed engaged or to be aware of Patrick’s growing animosity.
For the most part, the AVLT keeps track of, and regulates, very fancy properties owned by fancy people. I would say that most, if not all, of the 30ish easements the AVLT has around the Valley are on really “nice”, really expensive properties. And the people at the reins of the AVLT for the last few years are somewhat “expensive” types themselves. They own multiple houses that they can afford to have sit empty when they’re not using them. (And we wonder why there is a housing shortage in AV…well, we don’t wonder, we all know.) They hire “working” people to build their houses and fix their fences. They would never think of building their own pond with a loaned bulldozer. Unfortunately, I did all of those things myself. And I’m not expensive.
The AVLT vacationers really didn’t like being told that they didn’t understand an easement that was written by people with limited financial means. These are some of the class differences that I believe lead to the retaliation and animosity towards my mother and me from certain particular AVLT board members. But my Mom had tried to plan for this. She had written into our easement contract that “homesteading” was what our contract was created to allow and promote. I’m pretty sure these Anderson Valley vacationers couldn’t quite grasp what the intent of that wording was. The surprise for me was that there are, at a minimum, one or two people on the board of the AVLT that should have been able to figure out the intent of “homesteading”. I think those board members might have been asleep at the wheel.
Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy and thrive in a life of hard work and modest means. And I hold no ill will towards people who have found a way to collect significant wealth, either by luck of family or hard work or both. What I detest, is looking down on others, due only to their financial situation, whether it’s greater or smaller than yours. It’s the worst way to judge people, and I find it repulsive and revolting. And that’s how the AVLT has judged my family; as do-it-yourself homesteaders with limited money or resources who might camp on their property instead of building a fancy house to sit empty.
The Anderson Valley Land Trust, under Patrick Miller and David Hopmann, became the Pretty Property Police. AVLT President Patrick Miller has openly stated to me on multiple occasions, with disdain in his voice, that I should spend more money on my property improvement projects and hire others to do the work for me. I cannot think of a worse misinterpretation of an easement that protects homesteading.