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How America
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By Michael Shaw

March 11, 2007

Twenty one years ago my wife and I purchased 75 acres in Santa Cruz County, about a quarter of a mile away from the Pacific Ocean. The land sits just outside of urbana in a rural-residential setting. There are neighbors on many sides of us and Highway 1 on the east. We call the land "Liberty Garden."

The land is zoned “rural-residential” which translates into land that supports about 30 homes. I applied for a 4 lot minor subdivision (rights to potentially build 4 single-family homes).Even though I had successfully developed other projects in approximately 20 communities across California and elsewhere, in Santa Cruz it became a nightmare. I now understand why the nightmare continues.

We learned that the “environmentally sensitive” Santa Cruz politic was a cover for something very sinister.

Santa Cruz County, California is an original incubator for Sustainable Development and that the Santa Cruz County Planning department is considered a “lead agency” for its implementation. My experience is reflective of an established trend in Santa Cruz County and one that is rapidly growing nationwide.

The “Liberty” portion of Liberty Garden was created to express opposition to the rules, regulations and restrictions that serve to advance concepts that eliminate private property.

We call our land “Garden” because the land has been transformed from pasture land occupied half by European pasture grasses and half by a previously impenetrable oak forest covered with walls of poison oak as high as 40 feet. Twenty years later, and at a very substantial financial cost and output of personal energy, this fallow land has been transformed into a spectacular oasis of lovely, hospitable and diverse native vegetation.

The Essence of Private Property

The essence of Private Property is in possessing the right to determine the property’s use. The right to determine use does not however infer a right to uses that pollute the air, the public water supply or the property of another. Today in America, the concept of private property is fading - fast.

While our justice system is being rearranged to accommodate a new collectivist social order our economic system is being transformed from one based on the ideals of private property to one of “public-private partnerships.”

Fifty years ago public-private partnerships were known as a fascist economics. Today, Public-private partner developments flourish in Santa Cruz County. Government redevelopment agencies now fancy themselves to be the grand coordinators who partner with subsidized developers who combine to use our tax money wastefully on inefficiently built and inefficiently run projects.

Defining the litigation battleground

After being denied a minor land division on very dubious grounds I spoke to my County Supervisor. The Board of Supervisors have charge over the Planning Department. After that meeting it became apparent that being able to build a home for my family would be a futile exercise, unless I was willing to be extorted. Then County Supervisor, Robley Levy, said I could build one home on the property as long as I agreed to never to build anything more on the land - ever.

So instead, I live with my family in a home located nearby Liberty Garden in La Selva Beach, CA. The land sits vacant while I am hopeful that someday I can it put it to use to house people.

In the mid nineties I sought to construct a municipal grade well in order to accommodate our native plant recovery program, to have running water for an outdoor kitchen and to be able to fend off the threat of wildfires.

A permit was issued by the Environmental Health Department and the well was drilled. Pacific Gas and Electric extended power to the site. Then we went to the infamous Santa Cruz County Planning Department for the “Level 1” ministerial permit needed to connect the well to the power. They refused saying that I needed to go to a “Level 5” public hearing. I filed a lawsuit on September 12, 2001.

Our legal counsel, Ron Zumbrun, a founder and past President of the Pacific Legal Foundation, obtained a court order in 2003 that required the County Planning Department to issue the ministerial permit connecting our water source to the power source. In the suit we claimed civil rights violations and inverse condemnation among other causes of action in connection with the denial of power.

We also claimed trespass and damages for the County public works department practice of dumping suburban street sweepings on the northwest corner of Liberty Garden. The dumping was at the base of Highway 1 and adjacent to a water course that runs through the heart of Liberty Garden. The dump site was located on a privately owned, gated roadway that had served as a thoroughfare prior to its abandonment resulting from the 1970 construction of the Highway 1 freeway.

In September of 2006 a scaled down case seeking damages came to trial.

Pretrial motions brought by the County dramatically limited the scope of damages that could be claimed. The demonstration of a twenty year history of abuse was limited to the demonstration that the County’s series of confiscatory actions were part of a pattern. However, the Judge refused to allow evidence of the “pattern” justifying his finding that the property was merely “recreational.”

Despite the zoning, allowing 30 homes, I have not been able to build one home in 20 years as I have been harassed at every turn. Files are lost, phone calls are not returned, meeting dates are canceled, the rules change, there are secret internal policy memos not shown to the public, and so on.

Substantial sums continue to be invested into our succeeding effort to create an unparalleled ecological oasis. Our success has resulted from the development of land management techniques that have nurtured the recovery of plants from a long lived native seedbank. Today, Liberty Garden is a unique and wonderful landscape consisting of over 250 native species of lovely plants compatible with people. Birds, insects and animal also benefit. Sustenance of this landscape requires human involvement and capital. Human intellect and physical involvement is essential for the maintenance of this landscape.

In Shaw vs. County of Santa Cruz, the court ruled that; “During the time this permit application was being processed, the County Planning Department was either woefully understaffed or poorly organized or both. Phone calls were not returned as a matter of routine. It is easy to understand that there would be errors in permit application processing.” So the innocent and productive citizen pays the price for (planned?) department incompetence!

The County testified that an “underground” regulation was the basis for their authority in denying the permit to allow connection of the power. This unpublished, secretly applied, August 18, 1983 underground regulation prohibits power in the absence of a main dwelling. This rule was created by and is administered by the planning department. It directly conflicts with published legislation passed in accordance with proper legal authority. The Court ruled that “Certainly, the plaintiffs should have been provided with a copy of the memo, although it does not appear in retrospect, given the position of the parties at the time, that such provision would not have made any difference!” Perhaps. After all, even legislated law in Santa Cruz pronounces that rural subdivisions “are to be discouraged” Let the order of private property be damned!

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Sustainable Tyranny

As executives and legislators run in competition over whom best champions “Sustainable” policy objectives, individuals increasingly count on the judiciary to protect the ideals of equal justice and private property. We will be losing that battle too if Santa Cruz communitarian law continues to become the model for your community. [See DVD: "Liberty or Systainable Development"]

Perhaps landowners need to examine more closely the nature of land patents if we are to salvage any application of the ideals of private property.

© 2007 Michael Shaw - All Rights Reserved

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Michael Shaw is a founder and director of Freedom 21 Santa Cruz and is a frequent host of the nationally syndicated Freedom 21 Santa Cruz Radio Show. He holds degrees in Political Science and Law and has practiced as an attorney and as a Certified Public Accountant. For 20 years he has implemented Abundance Ecology land management techniques on land he owns on the central coast of California. His success at creating an indigenous plant wonderland is unparalleled. Details are available at

More information on the Nature Conservancy and Sustainable Development (research documents, subject topic articles, radio archives, neighborhood tools to counter Sustainable Development and free subscription to The Report) is available at

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Fifty years ago public-private partnerships were known as a fascist economics. Today, Public-private partner developments flourish in Santa Cruz County.