The Tuolumne County Board of Supervisors temporarily stopped the shut down of an East Sonora green-waste composting business Tuesday, but one of the owners wouldn’t say whether they would pay a $3,800 fee owed since 2015 as part of their development agreement.
Following an appeal hearing where the board reversed a decision to revoke the conditional use permit for Green Works, LLC, co-owner Mike Holland said he had to talk with his business partner — and possibly a lawyer — before confirming whether he would pay it.
“I still don’t believe it’s fair,” Holland said.
The board unanimously reversed the county Community Resources Agency’s revocation of the permit and gave Holland and his business partner, Justin Dambacher, both of Sonora, an additional 45 days to pay the fee and comply with other alleged violations of agreement’s terms.
District 4 Supervisor John Gray, who represents East Sonora and south county communities, went through each of the conditions that the county believes aren’t being met and asked county staff for specifics on what was wrong, then asked Holland after each one if he would be able to start complying.
Gray said he worked hard behind the scenes to help Holland and Dambacher get the business through the permitting process because he believes it’s a benefit to the community, but he can’t do anything about the fee because they agreed to pay it as part of the conditions for the permit.
“It’s like I bought a car for $1,000 and got payments of $10 a month and I decided the car isn’t worth $1,000 so I’m not going to pay it anymore — it doesn’t work that way,” Gray said. “You signed on the dotted line that you’re willing to pay that, and I believe you’re obligated to do that.”
The fee is intended to help pay for impacts a development will have on the county road system by adding more traffic.
Green Works opened in the summer of 2015 after months of setbacks in part due to complaints from neighbors with various concerns related to noise, environmental degradation and fire.
Holland alleged during his testimony to the board Tuesday that he believes the county intentionally misled people about their business plans to derail the project.
According to Holland, his business is being targeted by the county because it competes with county’s contractor for garbage and recycling services, Cal Sierra Disposal, a subsidiary of Waste Management which operates a similar green-waste disposal site less than a half-mile from Green Works.
Holland believes the fee is particularly unfair because the county didn’t charge Waste Management or a Twain Harte green-waste disposal site.
County officials say the fee wasn’t applied to those businesses because one is located on Tuolumne Utilities District property and the other on federal land, both of which aren’t required to go through the same process under county land-use policies.
“Are we treating Mr. Holland differently? Absolutely not,” said David Gonzalves, director of the Community Resources Agency.
Holland alleged that the county is coming after his business because the number of vehicles going to the Waste Management facility dropped by about 6,000 per year after he opened.
The county calculated his fees assuming his business would attract eight new vehicles per day, which Gonzalves called conservative.
Holland told the board he wasn’t notified of Tuesday’s appeal hearing ahead of time and only found out about it when The Union Democrat called him Friday for comment. However, he told the newspaper that someone who works for the county had informed him about it earlier that day.
Holland said after the meeting that he told the board he was notified by the newspaper because he didn’t want to get the county employee in trouble.
Robert De Salles, who owns Diesel’s Landscaping in Sonora, spoke in support of Holland and said shutting him down would send the wrong message.
“With the economic blight we have in this county, we don’t need to be shutting down businesses,” De Salles said.
Carol Doud, of Sonora, said she attended every meeting of the Tuolumne County Planning Commission in 2015 where they considered Holland’s permit application and felt he went through more trouble than anybody she had ever seen.
Doud said she also visited the business after it opened and had positive things to say about it, but believed he should follow the agreement with the county.
“I actually think you’re a good business and you do a good job, but dude, write the check,” Doud said. “There are rules you’re supposed to follow, so follow them.”
District 5 Supervisor Karl Rodefer said the county doesn’t pick favorites when it comes to businesses and Tuesday’s hearing was about going through a process.
Rodefer said, “When you make an agreement with somebody, you live by it.”
“Don’t come back with alibis,” Rodefer continued. “These types of things cost the county money and staff time, and that’s money and staff time that could be going to others who need it.”
Contact Alex MacLean at email@example.com or (209) 588-4530.