Monthly Archives: May 2009

Those Phony House Demolitions – Again

          Here we go again, folks. It’s the UN, those wonderful folks who somehow manage to ignore all sorts of grisly human rights violations all over the world, but are ever watchful for misdeeds in – ta,da! – Israel. This time the UN is bent out of shape over Jerusalem’s enforcement of its municipal building codes that, like ours, require a building permit before construction can proceed. We were surprised to learn that enforcement of local building codes is a matter of interest to the UN. Wow! 

          So does that mean that California municipalities, to say nothing of the Coastal Commission, are about to feel the sting of the UN’s disapproval of their notoriously harsh and dilatory permitting procedures? Don’t be silly. There is no chance – none whatever – that the UN will issue a report chastising the California Coastal Commission over its “process of applying for a building permit . . . [which is] lengthy and costly [with] no guarantee that one would be issued in the end.” (Isabel Kershner, N. Y. Times, U.N. Seeks End to Razing of Homes in East Jerusalem, May 1, 2009, at p. A8). 

          But this business of UN intervention in such matters is an intriguing idea because when it comes to harsh treatment of land owners and delays in permitting, we Californians are the undisputed world champions. To take a couple of famous examples, it took Bonnie Agins (of Agins v. Tiburon fame) some 30 years and $500,000 in city-required expenses (not counting a trip to the U.S. Supreme Court and assorted litigation in the lower courts) to meet the city’s demands before she was permitted to build three — count ‘em, three — houses on her 5-acre lot. Or take poor Ken Healing. In the words of the Court of Appeal, “what he had in mind was building a modest, three-bedroom home for his family. What he got was a long-term nightmare.” Healing v. Calif. Coastal Comm’n. (1994) 22 Cal.App.4th 1158. A 17-year long nightmare to be exact.  So if the UN is right, those Israeli land-use functionaries are pikers, and the gimlet eyes of the UN land-use enforcement apparatus should be focusing on California land-use regulators instead.


          Then there is the matter of house demolition. It’s conceded that East Jerusalem Arabs, have been ignoring the local municipal land-use codes in large numbers, and building without permits whenever it suits them. Their excuse? It’s that lengthy, costly and uncertain process of applying for a building permit, don’t you see, that’s at fault. Can’t expect an Arab would-be builder to put up with all that bureaucratic rigmarole, can you? So they just go ahead and build. What could be wrong with that? Well, if you really want to know the answer to that question, just you try building without a permit right here in California, and you’ll find out in short order. Whoo boy!


          Our all-time favorite California case dealing with such matters is Golden Gate Water Ski Club v. County of Contra Costa (2008) 165 Ca.Alpp.4th 249. In the court’s words: “The Club purchased Golden Isle in 1966. By 1970, without obtaining any land use or related permits, the Club had built or installed at least 15 residential dwelling units on the island in the form of cabins and/or travel trailers, plus decks, docks and other related structures. On July 1, 1970, the County’s building inspection department notified the Club that its use of the island violated the County’s land use requirements and was not permitted.” Evidently emulating those stalwart East Jerusalem Arabs, the Club “did not cease its use of the island nor did it remove the dwelling units and other structures. To the contrary, still without obtaining any land use or related permits, the Club added to the development, so that by 2003 the development on Golden Isle had grown to 28 residential dwelling units, 28 docks and various outbuildings.” Bottom line: the Club’s effort to retain those structures, and its claim that having to demolish them would be a taking of its property, was rejected. Having built all that stuff without permits, the club was ordered to tear it down. And that, folks, is our law. Still, for some strange reason, there has been no intervention by the UN. Wonder why?


          But that’s not quite all. Those East Jerusalem Arabs claim that local building codes are being enforced “to push them out of East Jerusalem.” Sounds terrible. But is it true? Not a word of it. In the same article, the New York Times lets it be known that in 1967 (when Israel recaptured East Jerusalem in the Six-Day war), the Arab population stood at 66,000. Now it stands at 250,000. That’s an almost four-fold increase. Some “pushing out.” In fact, as the Times notes, there are some 60,000 unpermitted Arab houses in East Jerusalem at this time. Since a house is home to more than one person, ad since Arabs tend to have large families, that means that more than the entire Arab population in 1967 has been added to Jerusalem’s Arab population that is living in unpermitted houses. So if the Israelis are “pushing” the Arabs out of East Jerusalem, they are not doing a very good job of it, are they?


          That leaves one loose end. Is it true that Israel enforces its land-use laws only against Arabs? No, it isn’t. The homes of Jews who build without permits meet the same fate as the Arab ones.  See e.g., David Rudge, Ten Illegal Jewish Homes Demolished in Galilee, Jerusalem Post, Nov. 23, 2001. Also see Isabel Kershner, Israel Removes an Illegal Settler Outpost in the West Bank, N.Y. Times, May 22, 2009, at p. A10.


          Bottom line: when it comes to reportage of events in the Middle East, you can’t rely on the press, not even the prestigious segment of the press like the New York Times, to report truthfully on what is going on over there. So next time you read about Israeli misdeeds, take it with a large grain of salt. Chances are it isn’t true, and it certainly isn’t accurate.


Update. The reform Party of Syria, June 3, 2009, RPS News, reports that it’s the same story in Syria. In the town of Ruhaiba, outside Damascus, the municipality issued an order to demolish 71 unlawfully built homes. When their owners failed to comply, the authorities began demolition, except that — hey man, it’s Syria — their inhabitants put up a fight. Result: after demolition of three homes, violence broke out, the Mayor’s home and car, as well as the security forces accompnying the demolition crews were stoned so “they had no choice but to retreat.”

          So those folks may not be big on law and order, but to the extent they have law, it’s the same as our and Israeli law: if you build without a permit, it requires demolition of what you built. The question now is: what happened to the UN? Will they intervene in Syria? In a pig’s eye. We hope you are not holding your breath until that happens.


Second update. For another example of a demolition order directed at illegal houses right here in the ol’ U.S. of A. see Dean Patricial Salin’s blog, Law of the Land.  No UN intervention here either.