Put this one in the category where other California outrages reside: A court fight has erupted because Marin County is demanding that in return for a building permit for a farmhouse, the occupant must promise to farm his land … forever.
At least that’s what “perpetuity” usually means.
The Pacific Legal Foundation is helping Arron and Arthur Benedetti challenge Marin County’s “new forced-farming mandate that requires landowners to remain personally engaged in commercial agriculture in perpetuity as a condition of granting a building permit.”
The brothers’ father, Willie Benedetti, was challenging the policy before he died last fall and bequeathed the two pieces of land that triggered the lawsuit to his sons.
“The mandate would have forced Willie to choose between working forever on his farming businesses, Benedetti Farms and Willie Bird Turkeys, or retiring and giving up his property. Now it will put Arron and Arthur in the same position,” Pacific Legal said on its website.
The group has filed a complaint in Marin Count Superior Court alleging that as part of its overall land management policies, the county is requiring that to obtain permission to build a farmhouse on farmland, the occupant is required to provide an “assurance that the owner of the farmhouse shall be actively and directly engaged in agricultural use” of the land.
The Benedettis, both plumbers, own two parcels of land within Marin County totaling 267 acres.
“One of the two parcels currently has a residential structure in which Willie Benedetti resided along with Arron before his death in September, 2018. His will evidences a clear intent to devise the parcels separately to his two sons, one to Arron and one to Arthur,” the foundation said.
“Until his death, Willie Benedetti oversaw the day-to-day operations of his companies as owner and president. … His will evidences a clear intent to devise his ownership shares of the companies to Arron and Arthur.”
However, while Arthur personally is active in the companies, “Arron is not, nor does he desire to be.”
The complaint explains: “Willie Benedetti wanted to build a dwelling unit on his property as a home for his son Arthur and Arthur’s wife, without giving up the management of his companies to Arthur. Arron and Arthur now both intend to build dwelling units that would qualify as ‘farmhouses.'”
But that’s where the county’s demands interfere, the foundation charges.
“If Arron carries out his desire to build a new dwelling on the property, he will be required … to become and remain actively and directly engaged in commercial agriculture or to lease his property to someone so engaged. He does not wish to become so engaged or to be required to lease his property.”
They do not believe the county has the right to require them to be “actively and directly engaged in agricultural use” of their land.
The complaint alleges violations of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments as well as Article I of the California Constitution.
The complaint seeks a determination that the county’s demands are unconstitutional.
“Under the Fourteenth Amendment … the Benedettis have a federal right to be free from an irrational and illegitimate deprivation of their liberty or property,” the foundation said.
“Using state power to force an individual into a career chosen by the state infringes on this basic liberty, preventing an individual from changing or choosing to refrain from engaging in the state-chosen occupation,” the complaint charged.
The rule was adopted as part of the county’s Local Coastal Program and officially approved by the California Coastal Commission.
However, the foundation said, “the government can’t use the lure of development permits as a cudgel to force applicants into complying with its whims.”