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Surprise turn in Genesee heliport case

The building and operation of a heliport in Genesee Valley by Christian Palmaz and his family has its supporters and its detractors.

Genesee Friends appealed the decision by Plumas County Planning Director Randy Wilson on June 30 allowing the heliport in Genesee Valley without obtaining a special use permit.

An item was put on the agenda for the board of supervisors’ Aug. 1 meeting to set a date to hear Genesee Friends’ appeal.

In a surprise turn, Brian Russell, attorney for the Palmaz family, filed a motion for the board to throw out the appeal.

Technical detail

Michael Jackson, attorney for Genesee Friends opposed to the presence of a heliport in Genesee Valley, argues before the board of supervisors Aug. 1 in Quincy. Standing behind Jackson is Brian Russell, attorney for the Palmaz family who own the heliport. Photo by Steve Wathen

Russell argued that the attorney for the Genesee Friends, Michael Jackson, didn’t use the proper form in appealing Randy Wilson’s decision of June 30.

Russell quoted the county code concerning a planning director’s decision: “An appeal shall only be filed on the official form provided by the Clerk of the Board of Supervisors.”

Russell also argued that the business letter submitted by Jackson to the planning department failed to give all the information required.

Since the lawyer for Genesee Friends filed the wrong form and the deadline for appealing the planning director’s decision had passed, Russell argued that the board of supervisors had no choice but to throw out the appeal and allow Wilson’s decision to stand.

Due process

Jackson said the Clerk of the Board of Supervisors, Nancy. DaForno, told a member of Genesee Friends that Genesee Friends needed to pay the fee to the planning department.

When a Genesee Friends’ member asked for the form, DaForno said she couldn’t find it.

Although a reference to the form was in the code, Wilson testified that there was no form until he brought one from a previous county. The last time a decision of the planning director’s decision was appealed was in 2009.

Jackson also pointed out that Rebecca Herrin, senior planner in the planning department, had also told a member of Genesee Friends that she needed to file the appeal and deposit the fee with the planning department.

Jackson said that although Russell filed an action to stop the appeal on July 12, the planning department never told him there was anything wrong with his application.

Jackson said that when he filed the appeal on July 10, he asked Herrin if there was anything else that he needed to do. He said that Herrin said “Yes,” she had forgotten to stamp his letter for receipt, which she then applied.

Jackson said he did not hear about Russell’s move to throw out the appeal until Craig Settlemire, county counsel, called him July 31, the day before the board of supervisors’ meeting.

Settlemire had sent an email the previous Friday, but Jackson said he was out of town and didn’t see it.

Jackson said that if the board did not allow his appeal, it was denying his clients their rights. “We believe,” he said, “it would be wrong for the board to deprive a large number of people of due process.”

“The question,” Jackson said to the board, “is whether or not using the proper form is a fatal flaw.” He added, “We did what we were told to do. We filed what we were told to file.”

Craig  Settlemire

Settlemire counseled the board that, since it was their code, the board had the option of deciding the issue based on a strict interpretation of county code or not to do so. He raised the question, “Was there something that the county did that frustrated a person’s ability to file an appeal?”

The decision

After the lawyers had each presented their arguments, Kevin Goss, supervisor for the district that includes Genesee Valley, said that he didn’t like to base his decisions on “he said, she said” arguments. Goss also noted that there were others who were not present at the meeting to give their side of the story.

Less than a minute later, Supervisor Jeff Engel made a motion to deny the appeal. Without further discussion, the board voted 4 to 1 to deny the appeal. Board Chairman Lori Simpson was in the minority.

That was it. The merits of the appeal were not heard, Michael Jackson left the room and the board went on to other business.

The aftermath

In an interview following the meeting, Christian Palmaz said, regarding the vote, “Like they said, this is the end. … We are hopeful this is the end.”

Palmaz said that it was essentially the responsibility of the attorney for Genesee Friends to file the right form. Palmaz said that he had missed opportunities for similar reasons.

Palmaz added, “We have plans to be here for generations.”

After the hearing, Jackson said Genesee Friends hadn’t decided what they were doing yet.

Jackson said he and his clients had three options: First, sue the county based on its decision and take them to superior court. Second, circulate a petition to amend the general plan to make it clear that land owners in agricultural preserve land do not have an automatic, ministerial, right to put a heliport or airport on their land without environmental and other reviews. Third, do nothing.

In regards to the latter, Jackson said, “I don’t see that as a real possibility.”

Jackson added, “We are going to figure out how to deal with this. If it takes a change to the general plan, we will do that.”

Jackson is working on the case pro bono. If his side triumphs in the end, Jackson has said that he will bill the county for his services at the same rate that Palmaz’s lawyers are getting.

2 thoughts on “Surprise turn in Genesee heliport case

  • So why a heliport? Are they going to grow grapes, pot? Need a helicopter to spray poisons all over the valley? Why?

  • Because they are wealthy and would fly to their property than drive.

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