David Hoffman is the owner of a self-built, “sustainable” enclave in Marin County — but code enforcement bureaucrats seek to extort $200,000 in fines from him and demand that he demolish his self-contained Chinese/Tibetan-style habitation by August 1.
Hoffman, a tea importer, has spent 40 years creating a model of “sustainable” living on his property. Acting on the understanding that as owner of his property he could use it as he sees fit, Hoffman has erected 30 structures, including an ornate metal tea house, a tower containing a “solar shower,” reinforced caves for storing tea, a boat house, and a pond. He hand-dug a well, and created a worm farm.
“Most people come here, they see the visual, they see the structures,” Hoffman explained to the local NBC affiliate. “For me what’s important is the systems behind it.”
Devoted to an ideal of eco-friendly living, Hoffman created a “vermicomposting” system in which earthworms digest leftover kitchen scraps, and household-generated “gray water” is captured and filtered for use in a vegetable garden. He has also devised methods of converting human waste — or, as he calls it, “humanure” — into fertilizer.
“I wanted to show that there are distinctive nonpolluting ways to live on the planet,” Hoffman told the New York Times. “In my mind, I thought I could demonstrate to the county that these systems work.”
One might expect that this proposal would be well-received in Marin County, which is famous for its history of embracing counter-cultural personalities and movements. One would be wrong: The County code enforcement bureaucracy has ordered that Hoffman and his wife “cease occupancy” until a government-improved sewer system is installed, and is demanding $200,000 in accumulated fines for building and operating a tea business on the private property without permits.
“I did what I felt was right,” Hoffman states. “My love of the planet is greater than my fear of the law.”
Marin County supervisor Steve Kinsey, who is somewhat sympathetic to Hoffman, complains that the eco-centered entrepreneur has displayed “complete and blatant disregard for collaborating with authorities,” which is among the noblest and most commendable human traits. Less laudable, perhaps, is Hoffman’s apparent indifference to the property rights of his neighbor, Chuck Ford, who claims that Hoffman’s building projects extended beyond his property line. Ford has agreed to sell the land to Hoffman, but insists that he’s not yet received the money.
“I think he honestly felt that because he wanted our property, it was rightfully his,” Ford observes. Of course, the same can be said of the Marin County bureaucracy, which has no legitimate claim on any of Hoffman’s property — and yet is prepared to seize it at gunpoint because the owner has made peaceful and productive use of it without their permission.
However this affair plays out, Hoffman has a lot of company. Across the length and breadth of the United States, municipal, county, and state governments are using code enforcement, zoning ordinances, and similar enactments to crack down on people seeking to become self-sufficient through urban homesteading. With revenue-hungry local governments growing increasingly desperate, this conflict will continue to escalate.
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