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Monday, November 17, 2008

South Humboldt County Ranch Owner Loses Big Case

State Supreme Court declines to review Tooby Ranch decision
Jessie Faulkner/The Eureka Times-Standard

The California Supreme Court declined Wednesday to review the appellate court's ruling in favor of Humboldt County, which sued developer Bob McKee for violation of the Williamson Act.
In August, the California 1st District Court of Appeals ruled that McKee had violated his Williamson Act contract by subdividing the 13,700-acre Garberville-area Tooby Ranch into parcels less than 600 acres. The appellate court's decision reversed Humboldt County Superior Court Judge Bruce Watson's 2006 decision that the 1978 Williamson Act guidelines couldn't be applied to McKee. The 1978 guidelines increased the minimum plot size for subdivisions from 160 to 600 acres.

Former landowner Arthur Tooby entered into the Williamson Act contract with the county in 1977.

”We're very pleased that the Supreme Court denied review because we believe the first district appellate court had a well-reasoned and well-written ruling,” Interim County Counsel Wendy Chaitin said.

At issue were the tax incentives that come with Williamson Act contracts. The Williamson Act of 1965 is intended to preserve agricultural land and provides tax incentives to owners who agree to certain restrictions.

”We thought the statute was clear (and) the related law used to support the county's position was clear and long-standing,” she said.

Chaitin said she was unaware of any other Williamson Act litigation in the state that had been addressed by an appellate court.

Third District Supervisor John Woolley expressed relief that the issue had been resolved.
”We're pleased,” he said. “It was a long struggle. We believe it was necessary for the benefit of the agricultural community and the taxpayers. It's a good victory.”

The Times-Standard was unable to reach McKee's attorney by deadline.

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