In The News

Napa County seeks jail time for hillside developer

Tuesday, January 13, 2004

By GABE FRIEDMAN Napa Register Staff Writer

The Napa County District Attorney's Office began prosecuting the father of a prominent environmentalist Monday, accusing him of illegally grading an Angwin hillside.

William Dalmolin, 75, is charged with violating local conservation regulations by grading an Angwin hillside to carve a road on an otherwise undeveloped parcel.

Dalmolin is the father of Chris Malan, a well-known local environmental activist. His lawyer countered in court Monday that the charges were filed because he is Malan's father.

"Mr. Dalmolin's daughter is a lady named Chris Malan," Dalmolin's Santa Rosa-based attorney Michael Miller told the jury in his opening statement. "The fact that she's Bill Dalmolin's daughter plays a big role."

Dalmolin faces four counts of violating the county hillside ordinance by grading without an erosion control plan, and one count of grading without an exemption from the department of public works.

He faces fines totaling $13,600 and 30 days jail time and probation for three years, including allowing law enforcement officers to inspect his property for compliance with county land regulations at any time.

Miller said that Dalmolin is the first person the county has ever criminally prosecuted for alleged violations of the hillside ordinance.

But Dalmolin's account, that he attempted to conform with county regulations, differs drastically from that of deputy district attorney Rich Zimmerman, who is prosecuting the case for Napa County.

In court documents, Zimmerman asserts that on three occasions county officials informed Dalmolin that his project required an erosion control plan. Zimmerman also wrote that the county did not bring the case because of Dalmolin's connection to Malan for her high-profile role as a critic of environmental efforts by the county and local grapegrowers.

"Repeated and specific warning"

Zimmerman said in court papers that Dalmolin's "actions went beyond simple ignorance of the law, which in itself is not excusable, but occurred after a repeated and specific warning."

In April, 2002, at least two months before deeds to the property were transferred to his name, Dalmolin visited the Napa County Planning Department, according to both sides. He inquired about building a road on the property he planned to purchase, located off Deer Park Road near Angwin.

On July 4, 2002, Dalmolin began grading a road on the property, about 22 acres of what Zimmerman characterized as "steep hillside" with slopes ranging from 19 to 34 percent grade.

The next day, neighbor George Sheldon contacted the planning department about the project. He testified Monday that he was concerned about fire safety after seeing gasoline cans on the property. Sheldon also acknowledged that he is looking to develop part of his property, including construction of a home.

Edward Colby, a planner who enforces codes for the county, visited the site that day, observed a freshly graded road and left a cease work order on a car parked at the base of the property.

The following Monday, July 8, 2002, Dalmolin called Colby and then visited him in Napa at the county planning department office. Colby informed Dalmolin that an erosion control plan is required for his project, that one should be submitted immediately and all work should stop.

Colby testified in court Monday that Dalmolin said he intended to continue working despite warnings and the notice to stop work.

On July 9, 2002, Colby sent another written notice to Dalmolin informing him to submit an erosion control plan within 30 days.

It was more than 30 days later, on Aug. 16, that Dalmolin hired attorney Mark Pollack - a former environmental prosecutor in the Napa County District Attorney's Office -and arranged a meeting with county planning officials, where they agreed that an erosion control plan would be submitted promptly.

On Sept. 23, the Napa County Planning Department received an erosion control plan for the road on Dalmolin's property, but it was rejected for not clearly stating "the purpose of the road" or "the type of erosion control plan."

A defective plan

"This case is essentially about an individual who wanted to put a road in and didn't want to follow regulations," Zimmerman told the jury in his opening argument on Monday. "He essentially blew off the entire process."

Dalmolin's alleged violation is significant because the county planning department has a backlog of erosion control plans for projects, and the waiting period can be as long as a year, according to Zimmerman. By "jumping the queue," Dalmolin tried to subvert the process, he said.

Miller said he will tell the jury that Dalmolin, a 75-year old Army and Air Force veteran and lifelong masonry contractor, was never adequately informed of the requirements.

Furthermore, Miller writes that the county is pursuing Dalmolin on misdemeanor charges "to publicly vilify and demonize" him. No harm was done to the land, he pointed out, and the erosion control measures were deemed adequate by an on-site inspector.

"We believe this is a vindictive, tit-for-tat type of thing," Miller said.

Miller added that Dalmolin built his road after he received permission for his project from two county employees - permission that was revoked three months later. He responded to the revocation by stopping work, returning a rented excavator, and applying for an erosion control plan. It was during this time that the county began its case against him.

Miller wrote that as a local activist with the Sierra Club, Malan "instigated" a lawsuit against Napa County that resulted in "the Hillside Ordinance, which mandates stricter requirements for erosion control for slopes less than 30 percent." Which is exactly what Dalmolin is accused of violating.

According to Miller, Dalmolin said that Colby told him, "Chris Malan's Sierra Club suit is going to kick you square in the butt."

Miller also pointed out to the jury that in Colby's request to the District Attorney for legal action, he ends the note with the following, in uppercase capital letters: "FYI WILLIAM DALMOLIN IS CHRIS MALAN'S FATHER !!!!!!"

On the stand, Colby testified that his requests for legal action against Dalmolin were not spurred by any bias. He included the last line of his note because he said he found Dalmolin's relationship to Malan to be "interesting."

The trial is expected to last a week, and Dalmolin is expected to testify.