Article from the Coastal Pilot March 2001
A year ago last March, Supervisor Steve Kinsey was officially notified by the County Building Code Enforcement Officer that the buildings that he had constructed in setbacks on his property in Forest Knolls were in violation of county codes and needed permits. He was also notified that his septic system was illegally installed, unpermitted and in violation of county codes. The letter threatened an abatement hearing if the violation was not corrected within ten days.
To make a long story short, Kinsey was granted several extensions because he was "working with Questa Engineering", "had hired a surveyor,Ó "had health problems,Ó "needed time to negotiate easements or consider other options," etc.
On November 17, 2000 he was again notified by certified letter that he had not corrected his violation and that he had ten days to do so or the County would proceed with "an abatement hearing.Ó County records reveal that on November 30, thirteen days later, a verbal message (on an answering machine) was received from Kinsey that he was "working directly with Questa Engineering and Marin County Environmental Health.Ó Kinsey said he would follow up with a letter and suggested that the Enforcement Officer contact Phil Smith of Environmental Health.
As of February 21, 2001 there was no follow up letter from Kinsey in response to the Certified notification of November 17, 2000 and no other contact besides the voice mail message of November 30. That is, there is no further documentation in enforcement and therefore Kinsey's extenuation seems to be open ended.
The recently appointed Director of Environmental Health Services, Phil Smith said that it is not unusual for a compliance case such as Kinsey's to take so long to resolve. He said there had never been a report of surfacing sewage and that he and his staff had inspected the site under different weather conditions and had seen no evidence of septic failure. His best guess is that there was, and is, no danger of ground water contamination.
Smith said that the specialist handling the Kinsey septic violation was planning to meet with Questa Engineering on February 22 to discuss the "conceptual design" of Kinsey's septic system and within a reasonable period of time come up with a consensus on how to proceed. He said that Kinsey's site was not a "bad one,Ó but "one that did present technical challenges." With regard to the amount of time that had passed, Smith said he understood that Questa was quite busy and, as far as he was concerned he "would rather have a better system and take some time"
(It should be noted that on August 1, 2000, Smith, in effect, assessed a penalty on Kinsey of $2,025.00 for "work undertaken... without permit..." If and when Kinsey receives approval for some kind of septic system he will be required to pay double fees.)
The Coastal Post questioned Smith about Supervisor Kinsey's involvement with the committee (SepTac) currently revising county codes on septic systems. He said that all members of the committee were appointed by the board of Supervisors and that Kinsey attends meetings as a non voting member. The committee's preliminary report is due this Spring and its final report in the Fall---and the report is non binding. He said he was extremely pleased that the committee had gained the services of a facilitator from the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
SepTac members were indeed appointed and approved by the Board of Supervisors with Kinsey as President of the Board making the announcements. Its meetings are set up and facilitated by Smith and his staff at Environment Health. Smith was appointed head of EHS after its previous chief Ed Smith was fired after clashing with Kinsey over alleged interference in his department, mainly over septic issues. Kinsey chairs the SepTac subcommittee on "growth.Ó
On February 22, Environmental Health staff and a representative from Questa Engineering met and reached an agreement to proceed with an experimental, alternative waste water system called "Nibbler" which will pre-treat sewage and pump it into leach fields in the narrow down slope of the property. The "Nibbler" is an expensive commercial strength waste water treatment system which is not commonly used for residential dwellings. It is said to be especially effective in breaking down the greasy effluent from restaurants.
Because the system is new and experimental, the operational permit will be provisional and monitoring and testing will be required. If the system does not perform, the leach field will have to be abandoned and a sand filter type system constructed.
Letter From Reader
In the February issue of the Coastal Post, a reader submitted an unsigned letter to the Editor, asking several questions regarding Supervisor Kinsey's permit violations. Among them: what was the position of the Marin County District Attorney's view of the situation? The District Attorney's Office investigates all complaints of felonies and misdemeanors, i.e. which are subject to imprisonment. Only on rare occasions are infractions investigated--- that is, those which do not carry provisions for jail time, such as violations of county codes.
The District Attorney has a small staff of investigators to enhance and supplement official reports of crimes originally investigated by police agencies. The only recent case that a representative of the District Attorney's Office could think of, was of a complaint that a Medical Doctor had inappropriately used children's vaccines. In that case the investigation proceeded only after the State Medical Board refused to look into the complaint.
Nevertheless, the unnamed reader's point is well taken---what is the position of Marin County government with respect to long standing, blatant violations of county codes by an elected official responsible for enforcing those same codes? And, in addition, is it appropriate for an elected official in violation of specific county codes to participate in revising and liberalizing those same codes? In other words, is this situation illegal or appropriate? Does it contribute to a loss of confidence in government? Are other Supervisors, who are fully aware of this situation, negligent in allowing Kinsey to participate in revising septic rules?
Patrick Faulkner, Marin County's legal advisor, was on vacation when the Coastal Post contacted his office, and was not due back until February 26, a time which would make it unlikely that he would be able to reasonably respond before the newspaper's deadline for March. A letter will be submitted to his office (see below) Since this case seems to be in no hurry to resolve itself, Faulkner's response will be reported in the April's edition.
Our county government has, on at least two occasions, severely sanctioned illegally constructed buildings. A rancher at Two Rocks was subjected to a highly publicized abatement hearing and had to obtain costly permits on all structures including an illegally constructed septic system. The Supervisors are currently considering a lawsuit against Dutra Quarry a Peacock Gap for violations of its use permit, illegally constructed buildings and additions to its septic system.
Last month, the Coastal Post also printed a letter to the editor from Steve Holt of Forest Knolls, Steve Kinsey's former partner in Design/Build Alliance, a general contracting firm. Holt expressed thanks to the Coastal Post for reminding him that his fictitious business ownership statement with the Marin County Clerk's office had expired. (We actually reported that there was no record of his ever having had one not that it had expired). Holt also complained of "insinuations and outright lies regarding [his] relationship with Steve Kinsey"
Essentially the Coastal Post reported that Kinsey and Holt were partners in Design/Build Alliance and that Holt, when he wrote letters and editorial pieces in the Point Reyes Light and Gannet Independent Journal supporting liberalization of county rules on septic systems, never mentioned that he was Kinsey's partner. The source of information used by the Post was Kinsey's official financial statements on file at Civic Center in the Elections Department.
Holt wrote: "To set the record strait, Steve Kinsey has received no income from DBA (Design/Build Alliance) since I became sole proprietor ...[in January 1998] ...and he received less than $6,500 for the short time we were partners in 1997."
In his "Statement of Economic Interests" on file with the County which Kinsey executed on February 23, 1998 under penalty of perjury, he lists himself as an "owner/partner of Design/Build Alliance, a Business Entity or Trust with a fair market value of between $10,001 and $100,000 and his gross income received for 1997 as "over $10,000.Ó
On March 15, 1999 and December 10, 1999 Kinsey again certifies himself as an owner/partner of Design/Build with the same dollar amounts listed above. While, for one reason or another, people frequently forget, or misstate dollar amounts, a misstatement of one's being an "owner/partner" would seem to be unusual. As we said previously, something is amiss
Other Conflicts of Interest?
Kinsey and Holt have been the most outspoken critics of County rules regarding septic systems and the financial burden this has on "the little guy,Ó the home owner prevented by aggressive, oppressive, expensive County enforcement from obtaining permits to legally repair homes and legally upgrade failing septic systems.
While it certainly is true that the high cost of building and making repairs according to County codes are a factor in the decision of scofflaw home owners and contractors to perform construction and repairs without permits, relaxing or eliminating standards might not be in the public interest.
Aside from the small, financially challenged homeowner, there are others who stand to benefit greatly from relaxing the rules which require archaic septic systems to be upgraded when permits for remodeling are sought. Contractors who buy and sell run down homes would be able to complete an upgrade of the home without an upgrade of the septic system which might be costly and "technically challenging" thus, adding to the price of the home on sale---and make it more difficult to sell quickly.
Allowing "new, innovative waste disposal technology" to be used in West Marin, as Kinsey has forcefully advocated as a Supervisor, would allow previously undevelopable parcels to be developed, benefiting the home construction industry, a segment of society that has strongly supported him in all his election campaigns.
There are many in Marin that believe that rather than being overbearing, restrictive and oppressive, county enforcement and oversight of failing septic systems and construction is minimal and inconsistent and that home expansion and construction without permits is widespread. Allowing a small group representing mostly the home construction industry change the rules does not seem to be in the long term interest of home owners and might eventually endanger their health and also that of the public at large.