Stinson well goes forward despite takings claim

11/30/2017

After postponing a decision for two months to field concerns from a property owner who will be affected by the project, the county approved on Nov. 16 a coastal development permit for a new Stinson Beach Water District well. The well will provide up to 25 percent of the district’s current peak demand, offering additional flexibility during dry seasons and drought periods. 

Despite strong community support for the well, one resident has filed numerous complaints since May 2016 over a concern that the well encroaches onto her land, constituting a “taking.” Barbara Leonard Robben, a Berkeley resident who owns an eight-acre Stinson Beach property inherited from her parents, has a long history with the district. Ms. Robben’s father once owned thousands of acres in Stinson Beach and sold his water company to the district  in the ’70s. The Golden Gate Recreation Area purchased the majority of the family’s land around the same time. 

Ms. Robben has expressed concern, both to the district and the county, that the new well muddies the title of her property should she decide to sell it by limiting its future development potential. A letter her attorney, Michael Sims, wrote the county’s Community Development Agency in October, states that the required 100-foot buffer around the well will encroach onto Ms. Robben’s property by 66 feet. “This could create an unmentioned, unrecorded, and uncompensated “easement” restricting the use of the land,” Mr. Sims wrote. According to him, the encroachment constitutes a “taking” of her property without just compensation under federal and state constitutional law.

Yet a response letter submitted by the water district’s lawyer earlier this month disputes the claim. “A takings claim is not ripe” because “we do not know of any development planned for the property” and “any potential limitation will not likely impact the value of the property as a whole,” the district wrote. 

Curtis Havel, the deputy zoning administrator who approved the permit for the well at a hearing earlier this month, agreed with the district that the project did not constitute a taking. He said it seemed unlikely that the “impacted” land, or the part that is blanketed by the radius of the well, would be approved for any kind of development anyway because it is “steeply sloped and heavily wooded.”

“If someone comes in in the future to try to subdivide and further develop the Robben property, they are going to have to go through a very exhaustive, very thorough review with Marin County planning department,” Mr. Havel said. “That process will require entitlements and include notification, public hearing and environmental review.” 

He concluded, “I’m not saying you can’t develop it, I’m just saying I don’t know what someone in the future is going to propose and, at that time, we will take that project into consideration.”

Mr. Havel also shot down a number of other concerns, including that the well was drilled without first obtaining permits, that there had not been proper and timely notice to her before it was drilled, that there had not been an environmental impact report and that there had been no consideration of the impact of the well’s use upon Ms. Robben’s water well. He characterized the district as a “hallmark of a public agency functioning properly in a healthy and transparent manner that has equal respect for all its constituents.”

Ms. Robben does not plan to appeal the decision. “I tried for a year and a half to argue my case, but I don’t want my parents’ name or my name to be in such conflict that it forms a rift in the community,” she said. “I want to be able to live comfortably when I go to Stinson Beach… My father always told me never to leave an enemy behind.”