My Vacant Lot in San Diego County

The property became a headache, rather than a place where you can build your dreams. My problem isn’t unique.

By Steve Green for WOLF STREET:

Last December I called Coldwell Banker and asked the agent to list a property I own, a one-acre-plus vacant lot in North San Diego County. I acquired the land a little over five years ago, after my mother passed away. She purchased it from our neighbor, when he moved into a rest home a decade earlier. A prime property like this can sit for years; level, close to schools, shopping and public transportation. All the while real estate valuations have been climbing rapidly, nothing gets done largely due to the city’s intransigence.

The city landlocked the property, through a complicated set of maneuvers, some years ago. They created a private street, and granted new homeowners easement rights over what was previously a public road.

The lot still has common access, which the title company does not recognize for insurance purposes. To clear access on the title, I would need permission from the homeowners, and most of them do not want added traffic and new homes. They have the right to refuse, or simply ignore my request, or to extort me for money. Then I would have to litigate them, individually. It’s a long and expensive process. There are four of them at least.

The agent asked for a 7% commission, part of the fee is an incentive for the buyer’s agent. I knew there would be problems, and I wanted a major RE company with legal resources. The first offers came in at the asking price. I stipulated that I wanted to carry the note, to discourage speculators, and maintain secondary rights to the property.

I got some solid cash offers, and I could see the market was heating up. After a month or so, I suggested we delist for a few weeks and raise the price. The agent was reluctant, nonetheless, I really did myself some good.

Three buyers came back at the new asking price. The agent submitted a multiple counter offer, and two of them jumped the bid and I took the best cash offer.

Then the question of access came up. My mother and I had worked on this with the city some years earlier. We had engineers and attorneys, and while we wanted to split the lot, that wasn’t doable. The way was cleared for a single home permit, we had plans and everything in place when Financial Crisis froze the markets. Now a decade later, the city was walking that back, and the escrow was in jeopardy. I wanted to sue the planning department, which would have cost quite a bit.

The liability would fall on the taxpayers, and I would have to deal with the city on a number of issues. Winning a lawsuit wouldn’t change the mindset at City Hall. The ultimate goal of a lawsuit would be to require the city to accept the private road as a public street, as it once was, and provide city services, such as sewer and street lights.

There is also a matter of an owner’s property rights, which are very few these days. The land owner has a right to do with their property as they choose, but city planning commissions act like HOAs in that regard. Many of my neighbors are MAGA members, they fly the flag, but when it comes to my rights as a property owner, they are raging socialists, who are ready to tell me what I can do with my land, and the city is there to hold their hand. One attorney thought I had a lawsuit based solely on the issue of political discrimination.

The property had become a headache, rather than a place where you can build your dreams. My problem isn’t unique, large developers are conditioned to throw money at the problem and pass their costs onto the buyer.

Not only do city planning commissions place obstacles in the way of private developers, like myself, they rubber stamp shoddy work by house flippers, who can double the value of a shack with a few dollars’ worth of stucco. These are often buildings with serious flaws, grandfathered in.

While the city struggles with state mandates for affordable housing, they actively fuel housing inflation. States like California and Florida are working at breaking up these municipal government cartels by direct legislative oversight of zoning rules.

The buyer of the lot hasn’t broken ground yet. I think he found City Hall was not going to help him. Myself, I was ready to sell the lot and move on. The agent said to me at one point, “you’re emotionally involved with this property.” And yeah I was, but I think most people who buy property have no idea what they are getting into.” Meanwhile I am looking for some land in the rural part of Riverside County, just sagebrush and coyotes. By Steve Green.

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  89 comments for “My Vacant Lot in San Diego County

  1. Beardawg says:

    This is a nice recap of a fairly common scenario – but your challenges are greater than most. I was not aware that larger developers mostly just pass those costs on to end buyers. However, they are dealing with larger tracts of land, I am sure.

    Worst part for you was that you had already met with the planning commission and thought you were gree lighted. That hurts.

    • Djreef says:

      Welcome to California!

      • greg rogers says:

        Welcome to everywhere. The left has been a creeping cancer in city bureaucracies who now run the show and incompetent self interested councillors who will do anything for re-election. Together they are a root cause of housing unaffordability. In Toronto government levies are 30% of the cost of housing – more than the share of value attributable to land. Tornoto is not unique in north america. State and provincila actions are critical to disrupting the municipal monopolists.

        • joedidee says:

          glad to see MAGA owners able to KEEP THEIR RIGHTS

          just as you should have
          YOU SNOOZE YOU LOSE some times

        • Harrold says:

          I guess you missed the part about the neighbors being ultra conservatives and wanting to keep things the way they are.

        • Notta Sheep says:

          I agree with you. I spent 25 years in construction in Oregon and just couldn’t take the frustration dealing with all of the lazy and incompetent public workers anymore. Instead of streamlining the process, it was almost like they intentionally made everything more difficult and expensive and then laughed. They have you over a barrel because it’s a monopoly.
          When I left, the impact and permit fees were $80K before you even put a shovel in the ground! That all gets passed on to the new owner and everyone wonders why housing is so unaffordable. Plus they have METRO which is supposed to protect all the farmland from growth but all that does is limit the supply so dirt is really expensive there. No one builds affordable housing there anymore because you can’t make it pencil out.

        • LK says:

          Ah yes, “the left.” Nice to see the Boogeyman being cited as the root of all evil within the top comment replies, despite evidence in the article and below providing countervailing evidence.

        • Bob E says:

          California is far from a monolith blue block. In fact, San Diego County is bright red as influenced by the military and military contractors. Accordingly, your trying to blame this on liberals is beyond laughable.

        • robert says:

          Toronto also has a Green Belt surrounding the city, containing large acreages owned by relatively few property holders who want no influx of new neighbors (a common sentiment and not one related to the individuals’ political persuasion), and which serves its purpose by strangling development over a huge area, resulting in greater land costs both within and without the Belt and causing people to commute 60 or even 100 miles, with concomitant house price inflation in smaller communities beyond the Belt resulting in affordability issues for the locals.
          On top of the levies you mentioned, there is the sales tax on new housing, and on resale properties a Land Transfer Tax – based on market value of the property. In the usual way of governments, (tax you then give a bit back) some rebates are available if you meet certain criteria.

      • Gattopardo says:

        DJ, it’s not California. The state is all for development. Just take a look at the by-right ADU and now subdivision laws. The State of CA government has a hostile relationship with many of its cities, because the cities are the ones erecting barriers to development (for reasons I mentioned below in another post, the fear of approving anything).

    • gametv says:

      If you look across nearly every single problem we face today incompetent government is the cause. Our politicians talk about issues, but never about simply demanding better execution out of the government. Bureaucracies are built to withstand change.

      • Bobber says:

        Government credibility must be close to rock bottom.

        There was 20-40% fraud in the PPP program and state unemployment insurance programs. Can the fraud get any worse? Government is creating programs that it cannot manage. Taxpayer money is wasted like toilet paper.

        There is no trust anymore. Taxpayers have been abused for a long time.

      • LK says:

        I believe in institutions and their role / function in society. I don’t believe in the ideologues currently staffing them or using their position to undermine the institutions. The answer to bad government isn’t no government, despite what Libertarians may profess as they mask their desire to lead a tax-free life with their advantageous positions. It’s better government.

        Bureaucracies are also built to obfuscate responsibility.

        Yes, government credibility is rock bottom, and we’re reaping the whirlwind as opportunists are leveraging the situation in an attempt to bring about a One Party authoritarian dictatorship. Not, I suspect, that some take issue with that.

        The Fraud in PPP was in its rush in release and an implementation almost designed by administration with a clear bias *against* accountability, are you honestly surprised Bobber that it was abused by well-connected people who knew how to abuse it?

        • joe2 says:

          I don’t understand all these fraud in PPP comments. I had to document my previous payroll with tax documents and got the allowed loan amount based on the documented payroll amount. I then had to document how the loan was expensed against payroll and allowed expenses with records.

          So it appears to me to be more government corruption in not reviewing their own required documents. Or government helping their corporate friends with the expectation of their friends helping them later as seems to be widespread throughout the whole revolving door government.

        • LK says:

          Then perhaps you should look beyond your personal circumstances and do some research. An anecdote does not explain the whole. More often than not, it is used to dismiss it.

        • freewary says:

          LK since you think good government is the solution, let’s start with what you believe the maximum % of a person’s income this proposed good government should be able to tax. Currently in excess of 50% for combined local/state/fed taxes for many Americans. I say 0% – abolish income taxes. What say you?

          Next we can discuss if any govt should have the ability to operate a currency, force people to use it, and then inflate that currency to benefit insiders, like themselves, their friends and donors. I say no, what do you say?

        • LK says:

          I say a comment thread isn’t a place for nuanced and informed discussion, just hot takes, posturing, and self-aggrandizement.

        • ChuckTurds says:

          It’s a shame that this place has been overrun with libertarian nuts. Freewary how do you feel about 0% income tax on the first $50k income, then say 50% on the next $50k, then 95% on everything above that?

        • NBay says:

          Growth for it’s own sake is the ideology of a cancer cell. Think of creating a government that is like an immune system, fair to all cells. (individuals)

          Constitution Max Net Wealth $10-15M Max, or less.

          and the IRS is part of the Military….like an immune system… can kill misbehaving cells if they won’t respond to the usual signals… Tax Laws. They are then broken up in an orderly manner that won’t damage the body, and the pieces reused by cells that behave.

          There IS no other choice. Think small.

      • rankinfile says:

        Way too many on the government payroll at this point.But god forbid you suggest they downsize to something more affordable.

  2. cas127 says:

    Interesting article.

    Highlights the fact that while land/real estate is at least superficially a superior investment/store of value (because “they ain’t making any more” – that is, there is a fixed supply…especially relative to, say, DC “dollars”…) the reality is that real estate in practice is really a bundle of legal rights administered/manipulated by…the G.

    Layer in leverage games and the fleeting appeal of any given locale, and RE looks less and less like an unquestionably superior investment/store of value.

    And we haven’t even started talking about the economic/philosophical abuses/incoherencies of property taxes…

    • VintageVNvet says:

      ”VALUE” of land is the ability of the dirt to grow food and fuel.
      That’s the bottom line, far damn shore.
      After that, some and many levels of ”social” value may be added depending on location.
      If you can’t get your analysis down to that level, the foundational level of costs, please try again or get some help until you can understand ”VALUE” versus price or costs.

      • cb says:

        Value is also the ability of land to provide refuge and a place to shelter ………..

      • joe2 says:

        How does your definition of “value” incorporate the risk of losing your control over the land? Expectation value is the expected return balanced by the risks. Zoning changes, environmental regulations, water rights legislation, tax categories and rates.

        I’ve seen farmland reassessed to “best purpose” tax rates that forced the farmer to sell to developers. In California farmers are giving up because water rights are being reallocated. Remember the EPA redefinition of protected waterways and watersheds?

        Methinks you underestimate the risk of losing control given the current path of the government. Just like the guy with the acre of land in San Diego.

  3. Beardawg says:

    “green lighted.” ;-)

  4. Al Lemerande says:

    Another great and relevant article. Anybody who is reading this and isn’t sending Wolf $5 or $10 a month really should rethink the idea. Seriously, Bill Holter and Bob Moriarty probably will never make peace, but they can both agree on one thing, this place is a place to come for high quality commentary and intelligent analysis. All the best, Sitting Bull

    • kam says:

      The nature of my business is sporadic so I send lump sums to Wolf.
      The best source of uncluttered Monetary info, bar none.

  5. cb says:

    “flippers, who can double the value of a shack with a few dollars’ worth of stucco.”

    flipping or rehabbing houses is a very competitive business with thin margins ……..

    • Wolf Richter says:

      Zillow certainly figured out, after losing a gazillion, that flipping houses isn’t all that easy :-]

      • khowdug Flunghi says:

        “You can have any kind of a home you want. You can even get stucco. Oh, how you can get stuck-oh!”

        Groucho Marx in “The Coconuts” – 1929 – about the Florida land boom of the 1920’s

    • Seba says:

      This is very true, especially for cosmetic changes. There is a bit more margin once you start expanding and adding Sq FT. along with the updating and repair work.

      However, it does make Wolf’s point about cheap crappy work more valid as investors and builders attempt to squeeze more out of the thin margins. In my youth I worked on projects like that and it’s gross what people do to buildings sometimes that end up becoming someone’s “home”.

  6. cb says:

    “large developers are conditioned to throw money at the problem and pass their costs onto the buyer.”
    developers typically charge what the market will bear, so passing costs onto the buyer is a misnomer. Developers most often try to deduct the costs for land entitlement from the price paid to the landowner.

  7. misc.etc says:

    “MAGA members…but when it comes to my rights as a property owner, they are raging socialists”
    LOL. Raise taxes but not mine! Feed the hungry, but not with my food! NIMBY namby pamby cry babies.

    • nightdipper says:

      Let people earn their own money and feed themselves. But you can give some bum everything you own if it maker your feelers better. Then GFY.

  8. CreditGB says:

    The government is supposed to be for the common good. What happened to the author’s “good”?

    If I were him, I’d have started a walk in homeless encampment. Sort of like a mini southern border. Pamphlets in LA inviting homeless to enjoy an acre of “free space”, and let the municipal government and the neighbors deal with them.

    After a while your proposal for a street would sound pretty darned good.
    This is based on Marxist “Total Control from chaos” theory but hey, it is working everywhere else.

  9. Bobbleheadlincoln says:

    “You can’t park your car here!” — you should have encouraged some homeless people to start a tent community there. Maybe that would motivate the city hall? Though I suppose your liability as property owner could be a real headache there also.

  10. Brady Boyd says:

    In some cities like Cleveland, you can buy an affordable home compared to high tax west coast. Sure, the weather isn’t great compared to San Diego, but you can have a nice home at a reasonable cost.

    • Beardawg says:

      That actually applies to most of the Midwest. Just came back to the Southwest from MN this past week – it was gorgeous there (in summer).
      San Diego and surrounding area is arguably the best weather and a small enough city to not be annoying. I do understand why it is so sought after.

      • Nathan Dumbrowski says:

        And also not to far from San Diego is Tijuana, Mexico. So what a difference a country/border and the USA makes. Love San Diego and loved Tijuana when I was 18-25 yo.

  11. andy says:

    I thought private property rights were cancelled when gov mandated eviction moratorium.

  12. Enlightened Libertarian says:

    This kind of sh!t is exactly why I quit building and why there is a housing shortage.

    • cb says:

      You quit building because you went broke. Then you leveraged up, bought units and held, and inflation (the money printers) made you wealthy.

  13. Gattopardo says:

    I don’t think many cities do this stuff intentionally to small guys. After all, many of the staff don’t even live in town. And city councils turn over.

    Instead, I think this crap is due more to handwringing. Every little thing a city approves that someone doesn’t like results in complaints, investigations and lawsuits. So they’re terrified to approve anything or go even an inch outside of the bureaucratic lines.

    I experience this stuff first hand. Currently I’m 19 months into the application process to tear down and rebuild a simple house on a small, nearly flat lot. The infinite number of steps, forms, waits, fees, additional forms, sign-offs, more fees, etc., is just mind boggling.

    • Beardawg says:


      I suspect we could wring out dozens of examples in this comment section. In Prescott AZ (in town, not County), I bought land in 2015, built a 320SF OTG tiny home and it took 4 years !! 3 “pre-planning” meetings with the City – they were considering an environmental impact fee because I collect all my consumption water from my roof. Required a “City Structural Engineer Report” (their fee was $800 to process said report) FOR A 320SF FREAKING CABIN !!

      My architect (local for 27 years) almost bit their heads off a couple times at these meetings and then eventually said to me “….once you are built, they will never get another dime from you – you gotta bend over and take it – I am so sorry…” According to him, I paid more fees than a 2000SF home built on an acre.

      It was worth it – one of a kind home with windows all around – but going through the ground-up process was nerve-wracking (and expensive). Total cost was $365K and at best (a year ago) , would sell for $250K. Wasn’t built to sell – but the process shows why RE gets expensive quick and then eventually translates to the market price.

      • cas127 says:

        Somewhere on the internet, there has to be a website that (very) roughly rank orders the 3000+ counties in the US, in terms of the permitting required to build anything.

        Common sense says that the currently richest counties are the absolute worst…pull-up-the-drawbridge NIMBY-ism is a luxury good that falling-population cow counties can’t afford.

        And the US is a very, very big place – there are a lot more cow counties than gotta-see-and-be-seen-by-the-Joneses coastal enclaves.

        I’m not going to claim that Moosebutt, MT is as appealing as Newport Beach (although…why do so many multi millionaires own second/third homes in MT, etc…hmm) but, at a certain home cost multiple (3x, 5x, 7x?) it becomes hard not to focus on the fact that franchising and the internet have made more and more places in the US seem pretty interchangeable.

        Is sushi at 3 am, unattended live theater, or 50 degree January lows *really* worth million dollar mortgages and having your life path determined by the monthly Fed meeting?

        Give me an internet connection, a Walmart, and a Wendy’s and I’m happy with a $100k mortgage.

        If wearing a hoodie in January is the cost of being able to live a life free of the Fed, sign me up.

        • cas127 says:

          And…I’m aware that Prescott ain’t Newport Beach, either. But it can be a place that imports high maintenance people and high maintenance attitudes from places like the coastal enclaves.

          So…instead of 2900 pro-growth counties in the US…maybe there are only 2750…

      • sad I didn't buy says:

        You should have bought in Prescott back in the late 70’s…………

        People were basically giving away housing for nothing at the time.

  14. The Bob who cried Wolf says:

    Welcome to California. Alternatively, beware the overreach of some cities like the city of San Diego, which is allowing any and all building. There has to be some check and balance. Right now in this state there is none.
    I wonder if I’ll get moderated for saying MAGA and raging socialists?

    • Harrold says:

      Interesting how those two groups come together at times isn’t it?

    • One and a Penalty says:

      BTW, there is no such thing as “By Right” entitlements in CA. Even if you have the General Plan and Zoning designations, the City could find any reason to deny your project based on environmental reasons (i.e. traffic or air quality), or some other reason. Or anyone could sue you based on CEQA. Ever wonder why there is an affordability problem in CA?

  15. Sams says:

    The lack of history seems to have left USA with non-functional laws. Too much regulations, too little regulations and for sure dysfunctional regulations. Another place far away properties have been regulated for centuries, evolving to reduce friction between different stakeholders.

    A private road is mandated to have a board administrating the road, elected from and by all landowners along the road.

    There are laws and rules for usage, access, distribution of cost and more. Most of the time it work as everyone know that there are rules to be followed.

    • Carol says:

      We have become the USSR with byzantine regulations and complete dependency on government/state.

  16. AB says:

    I feel your pain. I have been trying to build a duplex in downtown Sacramento for almost three years, and it still has not reached the building department. Meanwhile, I have been fined multiple times by the city because homeless folks are trashing the place and setting a structure on fire. I feel for the neighbors who have had to live with an eyesore and sidestep trash and needles.

    • Gattopardo says:

      If you aren’t already aware of this law, look into the Permit Streamlining Act of CA.

      Essentially, cities have 30 days to approve or deny an application, and if they don’t, you are deemed complete (aka approved). You need to assert your rights to get the clock ticking. I think cities rely on the law’s obscurity, and the fine print that requires such notification, etc. Of course this doesn’t get you approved, because they’ll just deny it, but it gets action which you can then address quickly in 30 day rounds instead of 100+ day rounds like I endured until I figured this law out and pushed the city.

      Note: Newsom suspended the law for awhile during Covid (of course!), but it is now back in force. I bet cities aren’t even aware. The law is still suspended for the Coastal Commission part of any application (of course! always gotta take care of the state staff!), but that’s not an issue in Sacto.

      Good luck!

      • NARmageddon says:

        Interesting. As you say, the 30 day time limit means that pretty much any application will be denied, initially.

        If I understand you correctly, there will be a 30-day response time limit for each new round of negotiations?

  17. John Vermeer says:

    Steve, you did the wise thing by selling, life is short, too short to deal with a situation like this even though the property had an emotional link to family for you. I was born and raised in CA but finally left it and have never looked back nor regretted leaving. Where I live now on the east coast I am completely surrounded by green forest and no sounds of freeways. It’s restoring and healing and I never leave it to travel to highly populated cities.

  18. Venkarel says:

    I have heard horror stories about small property owners in San Francisco. From what I hear the development board is controlled by a triumvirate.

  19. Gomp says:

    Closing Time : 2am
    We don’t care where you go but you can’t stay here.

  20. Andy says:

    I know how you feel the city of Troy MI confiscated my lot no compensation.

  21. David Hall says:

    300,000 people moved to Florida in a year. Would not buy a lot without paved road frontage. There are problems in some areas with endangered scrub jays and in other areas there are endangered land tortoises. In Cape Coral there are burrowing owls on some vacant lots. There are various legal ways to mitigate protected species building restrictions. I met a real estate agent who said he bought a citrus grove (many citrus trees were killed by the citrus greening disease causing owners to sell out). He cleared his land and put cattle on it. The burrowing turtles moved to the perimeters of the property.

  22. curiouscat says:

    We property owners are all under the illusion that we own our real estate property. In fact we rent the property from the government. Try not paying your property taxes for a few years and see who has ownership.

  23. Peter says:

    These issues aren’t unique to California…nor the costs associated to fix them, if that’s even possible.

  24. CreditGB says:

    Try building a 500 cow dairy farm in Wisconsin. Thousands of pages of permits, tests, affidavits taking 2 to 3 years to clear IF they clear at all. Costs of lawyers alone scare most away from new enterprises.

  25. Land Surveyor says:

    So, the landlock thing. In many states…Private road being used to access property automatically makes it public access.

    I would deal directly with the underwriter rather than a title company. Most of these clowns can’t think outside the box. In other words, if it’s not typical, they get lost completely. The underwriters, there are only a handful in the country, are very sharp. There are several ways to tackle this… Or,you can get an attorney, deal with the city, deal with the adjoining property owners and get nowhere.

    There are likely state statutes in place that prevent these clowns from giving you the runaround.

    At any rate, sounds like it’s the buyers issue, now.

    • NARmageddon says:

      This was interesting. How do you get the underwriters (as opposed to the title insurance salespeople) to talk with you?

  26. Mendocino Coast says:

    What does it say on your original title report ? From Title company
    Title company’s do not give Insurance on property’s that do not have
    Access ( Title insured access )
    Also : if you Buy a Property and later have someone claim a Access on to or over your property > like a easement > ” That’s not on Your Title Report ” After a specified process You can Claim and Collect a Many times Huge amount of Money from your Title company . I know because I have done this in CA .
    At first the Title Company will say you have no claim perhaps try to ignore you ( you have your bait on the hook but no bites )
    ” They will say you have no claim because no one is trying or suing you ! ”
    Example of specified process : Have a Survey done to mark the corners
    only ( cheap at right Surveyor ) this may spark an unexpected call from Title company ( if you have already complained to them) offering to pay for your survey . Surprise Surprise :)
    Once the Survey is completed you have a RE Attorney send a letter the to involved property owners telling them your going to build a fence down the Survey Line and block it off in 2 weeks .
    Then you will receive a letter back saying if you do that they will Sue You
    At This Point I Have the RE Attorney send a second Letter to this time to the Title company asking them to pay my Claim .
    This will spark a special kind of very Subjective Survey called a ” Diminution of value by Survey” Cost’s last time $5,000 and up
    It has to do with what your property is worth / What is would have been worth had you known when you Got it VS what is was worth Not knowing it. That amount (that you can argue ) is your settlement $
    Example Residential Property: Now discovered to have “Claimed Easement “on it or access that was not on the title report
    Think : Once you accept a Settlement no longer will you have Title Company legal representation in case of lawsuit of said issue .But still the other parts of the title insurance
    Nothing changes : a Claim of access is simply that a Claim > an actual access must be something in writing and on record like county records.
    Most often Now Never build that fence or it will go to court for someone to decide and that may cost more then the settlement
    (the reason they settled)
    These Settlements ? your talking a lot of money but less then if they try to defend in court ( that’s why they settle )
    Note: such Settlements are not taxable as I remember so check on it .
    I bought a House with a Settlement one time

  27. JeffD says:

    Before communism, people could buy a craftsman home from the Sears catalog and build it themselves. It wasn’t anyones business to tell them what they could do on property they owned, as long as they weren’t being obvious nuisances.

    • VintageVNvet says:

      I hear ya JD,,, been there and done that, and finally stopped beating my brains against the fascism in californy ate after the last house cost $22,000.00 in ”GUVMINT fees,” not to mention architectural and engineering costs, etc., and took six months from emergency application and a couple of ”hearings” to rebuild after the Loma Prieta quake.
      Next self built house in flyoverstan was $125.oo TOTAL FEEs for state electrical and county septic permits, including ALL of the needed inspections, etc.

  28. all says:

    we dont have enough facts to determine a proper view.

  29. DR DOOM says:

    Whether it’s MAGA or Lean Forward once they get a hold of your nuts on a down hill drag the bastards will not let go. It’s some type perversion that is in us humans. You will encounter a rare few along the road of life that are not that way. When and if you meet them humility will wash over you. As Martha Stewart said in her tv ad’s years ago, “it’s a good thing”.

  30. JoeR says:

    so true, and the litigation you have to get deeded access also has to involve any lien holders of those properties, and we all know how fun it is dealing with banks.

  31. Ben says:

    In Tyler Tx very maga but solar must be approved by the city and neighbors can block a permit because they have to agree to the roof panels
    Low cost permitting but conservative folks not in my backyard

  32. Kye Goodwin says:

    The amount of government regulation of proposed changes to any jurisdiction through new building is likely to be correlated with how densely populated the the area is to start. California isn’t the wild west anymore.

    I looked up and calculated the overall density for California and France and was surprised that the difference was not so great: 92 persons per sq km in California and 120/sq km in France. Just try getting construction approval in France! Growing from a thinly populated frontier to a density almost like western Europe has consequences, and one of them is inevitably more government. Darn Growth Anyway, but it is hard for people to make a living without it.

  33. Mark says:

    I live in San Diego as well and have dealt with land issues and the Development Department. The folks who are successful at solving this type of issue in this town would go down to City Hall and ask for meetings with their councilmember. Polite meetings. This almost always will work. It’s an easy way for a councilmember to gain a supporter and a potential donor.

  34. Seen it all before, Bob says:

    I’ve seen a few properties that are landlocked with no access.

    1) You have to work with the surrounding neighbors to gain a driveway easement. This usually requires paying them.
    2) You have to work with utilities to obtain utility easements through someone else’s property. This usually requires paying them. It also requires paying utilities to bring in electric. gas, water, cable…… Put up the poles and dig the trenches to run the wire/pipes.
    3) Converting a private road to a public road requires the local government to agree to maintain it at taxpayer expense along with streetlights, sewer, water.

    It sounds like a typical battle that a developer faces when building a subdivision but you are a small voice that has nothing to add. Unlike a subdivision that can throw in land for parks, schools, fees, etc.

    Good Luck!

    • Gattopardo says:

      Ha. Nothing to add? Around here, you add about $10-$20k to schools in fees, $10k+ in parks & rec fees, $5-10k for sewer/water connections (and help them spread the costs out over a larger user base). They soak you for PLENTY of money when you build on bare land.

      • Seen it all before, Bob says:


        Ha! “but you are a small voice that has nothing to add.”. You are expected to add with a lot of money to build.

        I have a few friends who are building in remote areas with a private well, private road, septic, propane tanks, and solar. They are not paying government for anything other than property taxes. However, at the moment, they are living fairly rustic “off-the-utility-grid”. They have Starlink for internet so they are paying to be connected.

        • Seen it all before, Bob says:

          When the well dries up, the owner pays for it or they have no water.
          If the private road washes out, the owner pays for it or they can’t get in or out.
          If the solar panels break or the propane tank leaks, the owner pays for it or they have no heat or light.

          It is truly libertarian. The owner pays for every essential thing or they do without water, light, or heat. There is no spreading the cost across a community. It is a Libertarian dream! Until something essential breaks and they don’t have the cash to fix it. Ideally, the property taxes only pay for schools, libraries, Public roads needed to get to the grocery story, etc.

  35. Onionpatchkid says:

    Great article. I enjoyed reading it very much. I bought a really nice building lot several years ago and was tickled until I found out how dysfunctional the HOA was!!! The CC&R’s were super strict and even though I read them all before purchasing, I was told the HOA had no enforcement and was disbanded when the development had gone through bankruptcy 10 years prior. I was wrong. All of the lot owners were still enforcing everything and it was completely hostile. I finally dumped it after 6 years and when I did, only 3 of the 14 lots had been built on in the 15 years since being developed.

  36. NARmageddon says:

    >>The city landlocked the property, through a complicated set of maneuvers, some years ago. They created a private street, and granted new homeowners easement rights over what was previously a public road.

    Note to self: By “easement rights” I think maybe he means CONTROL TO GRANT OR REJECT ANY FUTURE EASEMENT RIGHTS.

  37. Nunya says:

    I think you missed a few details here. Cities/towns are usually required to notify current land owners of any potential changes that are being proposed. This includes zoning, easements, public streets, private streets, etc. There is a process of notification, meetings, proposals, votes, dissenting votes, appeals, objections, negotiations, etc. Were you or your family notified about any of the “complicated set of maneuvers” the city made?

  38. random guy 62 says:

    Funny how different this stuff is by location.

    My cousin just undertook a massive remodel project on a house sitting on 7 acres in rural flyover Midwest USA, about 5 minutes outside a town of 15,000 people. He paid $50 to have the county rubber stamp his drawings, and the crew started working. Another inspection or two to make sure the plumbing isn’t dumping in the river, and the electricity is not going to start a fire, and that’s about it.

    The neighboring county is known to be far more picky, but a friend just did a new build there. We are still only talking about a few grand in permits and brief structural inspections for a new build. He complained about every cent, but it’s nothing compared to what ya’ll are putting up with in the big cities.

    IMHO these bureaucratic hassles are mostly just a result of population density and desirable weather/geography. San Diego weather is top notch, so lots of people want to live there, and those that do already don’t want it ruined by the masses flocking there and mucking up their little chunk of paradise.

    The presence of people is part of what makes life worth living, but TOO MANY people ruin everything.

    I can’t help but think people will eventually respond to the economics, and start migrating back to the Midwest. Perhaps all these people pouring into Phoenix, for example, will wake up from their monkey-see-monkey-do trance and realize they moved to a strip mall inside an oven.

    We will welcome the new neighbors and the economic and social benefits of a few more people… just not too many. Too many, and I might have to start up a HOA.

  39. Madabuu says:

    The CA state and city governments are no longer hostile to development depending on who you are. Are you a “large” developer who will build high density residential and hire union labor, build a “nice” (but small) park , offer 10-20% of the units at “below market rate”, put the mayor’s brother in law, niece and who knows who else on the payroll and make sure they all make the max contribution to his/her campaign fund? Then no problem. Are you trying to build a single family home for your family with a yard and space for a garden to grow your own healthy food? No way! That is illegal! Literally. Never mind that the high rise eyesore will create 10x the traffic, use 10x the water and power and create 10x the waste. The costs of all that will be shoved down the throats of the long time homeowners through increased water, sewer and power rates. Plus, they will all have to “conserve” so that all the new residents can “have enough”.

  40. Kevin W says:

    Our family of home builders faced a similar problem over 40 years ago. New zoning regulations in our county is South Florida stipulated that septic tanks for new homes required a much greater minimum distance to existing ones than previously. On looking over the plats my grandfather realized he had two lots that were now unbuildable and worthless. What they needed to do was negotiate with several homeowners and pay for them to move their own septic tanks so that we could build on the vacant lots.

    You can imagine their answer: they liked having the vacant lots there. Good place to walk their dogs, dump lawn clippings, etc., and who needs the wildcard of dealing with new neighbors? So they said no.

    Enter my uncle. He put up a tall fence around one of the properties, then put several huge dogs there too, and was gratified that they were barking all night, every night. The place became a dumping ground for our contracting companies’ junk—tar, junked equipment, lumber scrap, old appliances. And the aforementioned dogs may or may not have had puppies, depending on who was telling the story later.

    Fast forward 8 months, the neighbors agreed to move their tanks.

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