When the dirt started moving on the parcel of land that had been recently sold by Bryant Whittaker between the “Big Dig” pond and the vineyard on the far end of Anderson Valley Way, the speculation was that it was going to be another huge pond with riparian rights to Anderson Creek's struggling fish population's water. After about the third time someone asked me what I knew, I called the new owners of the property, Balo Vineyards, situated in Philo, kitty-corner across the highway from Goldeneye. Whomever answered gave me their name which I've forgotten and said that no way, no how was it going to be a pond and no grapes either but rather a low key barn. Balo, by the way, is owned by a non-resident couple named Timothy and Michele Mullins. As with 99% of vineyard owners and developers they are quite wealthy.
So I thought I knew the skinny and as the building progressed I told all who asked, "No pond, no grape involvement, just an animal barn."
That is, until I noticed they were digging what looked like a pond behind the growing barn.
OK, so now it's time to go to the building department and see what kind of permits they have. Because I needed an address to get the building permit files, I went to the County Recorder's office and found it listed on the recorder’s ParcelQuest computer under Balo Vineyards at 10600 AV Way.
At the Building Department while standing at the counter I opened the file and almost immediately Mendocino County’s chief Building Inspector looked over and said "That's wrong!"
"What?" I asked.
"Class K," he said. "Balo Vineyards is a commercial enterprise and Class K is not appropriate for commercial usage." He leafed quickly through the various papers in the file and without finding anything notable. He added he thought he remembered talking with "the wife" who said it was going to be a horse barn for personal use. "That must be the reason for a Class K permit," he offered.
The permit was issued 7/17/14 and a note from the building contractor, Jeff Chandler, stated, "No 2nd floor, no electric, no plumbing or waste." The file did include a grading exemption for a pit pond to hold 5.6 acre-feet of water with a 10 foot max dam. A small pond by comparison to most vineyard standards. but still curious why that was needed for horses. But with the non-commercial “horse barn” explanation it appeared everything seemed legit.
On my way out I grabbed a printed copy of the Mendocino County Class K Ordinance known as Chapter 18.23 — Regulations For Limited Density Rural Dwellings and made available from a wall rack. Unofficially, but in reality, Class K in Mendocino was initiated to accommodate the Hippie Back to the Land Movement in the 80s and usher the longhairs in some manner into the system. Structural soundness must be maintained, but many of the normally required plans, procedures and inspections are eliminated. Costs are lower as well as bureaucratic hassle. At home when I read the second paragraph I was struck with a question.
It states, “The purpose of this chapter is to provide minimum requirements for the protection of life, limb, health, property,safety, and welfare of the general public and the owners and occupants of limited density rural dwellings and appurtenant structures.” (My emphasis) The same language is strewn throughout the ordinance "…owner-built rural dwellings and appurtenant structures.”
My dictionary defines appurtenant as “an accompaniment, auxiliary, accessory” and in this case there was no dwelling to be appurtenant to. In fact toward the end of the ordinance, by way of explaining the need for it, item (4) states, "Mendocino has a severe housing shortage. Low cost housing is especially hard to find in the County and the adoption of regulations for limited density rural dwellings will encourage the further construction of such dwellings."
The next time in Ukiah I stopped by the Building Department and asked, “Just what does appurtenant mean?” The inspector immediately became a little rattled and excused himself from the others at the counter. He lead me into a back room where he asked a maintenance man to please excuse us for a short time. He knew, without me stating, which project I was referring to and then explained to me that they in the Building Department had realized that they were making a mistake issuing Class K permits for structures not appurtenant to any dwelling. I might have heard wrong but it sounded like he was saying or implying that this wasn't the only case.
I did not complain or expect any rectification and he did not offer any for the Balo Vineyards horse barn. It was built, certainly it was solid, there was a County-issued permit and no way would it be torn down. I was and am OK with that, it is just an amusing, human incident that might or might not happen again.
I knew I was going to have to write it up but I was uncomfortable because I like the Building Department people. They are always courteous and helpful on my many forays looking for the goods on what I perceive as questionable enterprise. But before I started the story I began noticing various pieces of farm machinery around the barn and even parked in what looked like horse stalls.
Some of my friends started laughing when I told them the story about it being a horse barn. “Yeah, that John Deere tractor is horse number one, that Massey Ferguson is horse number two, and that orchard spray rig is horse number three.”
OK, so now I felt I needed to go back to the County permit folder for a closer look to see if I could find any documented discourse on the intended use of the barn. But in the manner that I often work, I had forgotten to bring the needed address to retrieve the files so I went back to the recorder’s office and did what I had done the first time and searched for Balo Vineyards.
Lo, the Anderson Valley Way Balo property was not listed any longer. So I went to the parcel map book for the area, got the assessor’s parcel number for the property and found that the ownership had been changed from Balo Vineyards to Vineyard Logistics at the same PO Box in Philo. Sure doesn't look or sound like a noncommercial family horse facility anymore.
So now there are two violations of the Class K Ordinance: it's obviously commercial and not intended to be a family horse barn and there ain't no house to be appurtenant to.
Back at the Building Department, Chief Inspector Chris Warrick said he would look into the matter. I put the story on hold to see how it would work out.
Once, a couple weeks down the road while in the Building Department on another matter Chris Warrick said he had been to Anderson Valley and noticed the tractors parked there and said he would be doing something about it.
It's been a couple months now and when I last went to look closely at the files I did not find any indication of remediation of the issues and Chris Warrick wasn't in to ask.
What I did find was a signed document that read in part, "I, Timothy Mullins, request that all inspections prior to final be waived and I hereby declare that all work conducted at 10600 AV Way, Boonville, will be in compliance with the provisions of Chapter 18.23 (regulations for limited density rural dwellings) of the Mendocino County Code, which allows for the deviation from requirements of the standard uniform construction codes…"
This is Monday morning the 22nd of June and I have finally written the story. I will email a copy to the Building Department for comment and include any reply that they might make. But you know what? I don't think it's all that big a deal. We all make mistakes. We all fudge a bit here and there.
That barn in itself is not going to hurt anybody, albeit, it is a violation of code on two counts.
What I find amusing, though, and a bit exasperating is how very rich people and often those of the vineyard ilk tend to get treated somewhat differently than the rest of us. It's annoying, too, that they seem to expect and feel entitled to such preferential treatment.