Wilson Robertson (District 1), Lumon May (District 3) and Steven Barry (District 5) voted to allow the county attorney to petition for an injunction against the privately-owned campground known as Satoshi Forest, owned by the homeless outreach group Sean’s Outpost. Commissioners Gene M. Valentino (District 2) and Grover C. Robinson (District 4) were absent. Read more here.
At a January 21, 2014 hearing, special magistrate Janet Lander ruled that the alleged code violations did not constitute an emergency. At that meeting, the magistrate heard from Sean’s Outpost’s attorney and the Code Enforcement officer who requested the hearing. The magistrate postponed the “emergency” hearing because the Code Enforcement officer testified under oath that he could not identify a single “emergency.” The magistrate allowed campers to remain on the property as they went through the permitting process but had to allow (and pay for – at $50 per week) a Florida Department of Health inspector and Escambia County code enforcer to inspect the property weekly, and the organization has respectfully complied. The inspectors visit weekly to make sure Sean’s Outpost is in compliance with applicable laws. In fact, March 13, 2014, Department of Health inspector James Brough noted in his report “The park has remained well maintained and has not shown any signs of posing a threat of sanitary nuisance, or public health risk at the time of inspection.”
UPDATE – the March 19, 2014 inspection report of Satoshi Forest by the Florida Department of Health, Escambia County Health Department states, “No violations observed. No sanitary nuisance present at the time of inspection.”
At a February 11, 2014 hearing, magistrate Janet Lander posed the following question to county attorney Ryan Ross, “Regardless of what the zoning is, and say is the fact that there are people who are occupying this vacant parcel with the permission of the owner–are they violating any county code provision by virtue of their occupation of that property.” Ross replied, “I am not aware of any provision that addresses that specific question.” Lander responded, “Right. Nor am I. And Because I can only render decisions based on violations of the code and if no particular — if there’s not a nuisance in existence right now — there’s no nuisance condition, there’s no overgrowth, there is no trash and debris, the health department is making random inspections to make sure that there are no nuisance conditions in existence. So we’re looking at it from a health and public safety perspective. There is nothing in the code that prohibits the particular activity that is taking place on this private property at this time in the absence of zoning. And the zoning is being taken care of on a separate path. So because there is nothing right now that in this present time violates the county code, I really am hard-pressed to deny their ability to go forward and obtain the permitting to have a more expansive use of the property that would, in fact, be permitted. My main concern right now is whether or not in the present tense there is a current violation taking place on that property outside. Because if I found they were violating the land development code what I would do is give them 30 days to file an application. They’re filing an application. So I’m not sure what would be gained by not allowing them to go forward with the one thing that I would ask them to do anyway.”
The next hearing with magistrate Landers is set for next Tuesday, March 25, 2014.
In this video, Escambia County Commissioners discuss firing and replacing magistrate Janet Lander, who is presiding over the case. In regards to the citizen who says he wasn’t allowed to speak at the “emergency” hearing on January 21, 2014, it should be noted that it was a quasi-judicial hearing, and Florida Statute 286.0114 specifically excludes quasi-judicial hearings and “emergency” hearings from requiring public input. Sean’s Outpost founder, Jason King, commented on the video, “the Escambia Board of County Commissioners [is] saying, in no uncertain terms, that they want to replace or fire the magistrate that has been assigned to adjudicate the Sean’s Outpost case…Every private property owner in Northwest Florida should be terrified of this. It means that if you go through proper channels, even if they drag you to court over something, even if the judge sides with you and the path you are taking, the county can just decide that they didn’t get the results they wanted and get a new judge. The truth is…Satoshi Forest was an illegal dumping ground for a decade before we bought the property. We cleaned it up, removing actual tons of garbage that the ‘neighbors’ have been illegal[ly] dumping for years. We cleaned up numerous broken crack pipes. This was a blight. It is now a beautiful refuge. But you don’t have to agree with me on the issue of homelessness. This is something different now. This is about private property and your right to do with it what you want without government singling you out for harassment.”
Here is a video of Sean’s Outpost board member Mike Kimberl discussing the possible injunction, the progress on the property and related issues. Kimberl notes the organization has done a survey, wetlands delineation, a geological survey. He says they have port-o-let toilets, a hand washing station, trash cans throughout the property, and a dumpster that is emptied regularly. He also notes that the county’s petition for an injuction could be denied.