Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Scofflaw versus code enforcers in Marin County

The headline in yesterday's New York Times reads, "In Hippie Holdout, a Fight Over Worms and Moats," and the tale is of David Lee Hoffman, who has for many years been building without permits in Lagunitas, California.  Here's a summary:
For the last 40 years, Mr. Hoffman, 67, an entrepreneur who specializes in rare aged tea leaves, ha been building a Chinese- and Tibetan-inspired compound on a steep hill in this unincorporated hippie holdover in western Marin County where the general store has a community piano and sells clothing "made with peace and love."  
The village has long prided itself on its pristine beauty and live-and-let-live attitude.  But that was before the bitter dispute that pitted Mr. Hoffman, with his unconventional techniques for living in what he calls a sustainable way, against county code enforcers whose demands for permits he has repeatedly ignored.  
Journalist Patricia Leigh Brown uses two rural-esque images to describe Hoffman's complex: "part Himalayan kingdom, part Dogpatch rife with construction debris."  (If the Dogpatch allusion is lost on you, read this)

Among the practices (and related structures) that have gotten Mr. Hoffman and his wife into trouble with Marin County officials are compost toilets ("self-contained chambers with a worm-composting system").  These are not permitted in Marin County--which includes several high-rent incorporated areas north of San Francisco.  Hoffman's manner of disposing and recycling waste, vermicomposting, involves "colonies of worms, micro-organisms and carbon-rich leaves turn[ing] waste into humus."   The county is concerned that if the "moat" involved in this vermicomposting overflows, it would contaminate a nearby salmon creek.  The matter is now in the hands of a state administrative law judge.

Brown offers this closing quote form a Marin County Supervisor, Steve Kinsey, who suggests "the affair may require some alternative thinking."
It's an expression of complete and blatant disregard for collaborating with authorities.  But it is also the life work of a creative individual.   Marin has a history of noncormfority.  We want to keep it that way.
This reference to nonconformity reminds me a quote from Karl Marx, who refers to the "idiocy" of rural life, but explains that by this her refers to the nonconformity and privacy associated with rural living, contrasting that city folk, who are more conformist.

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