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What I learned about property in Humboldt

I'm back from the end of my summer travels typing on my brand new laptop, which arrived just as I was taking off on this travel-ending trip to Garberville, right in the heart of southern Humboldt County, California. We were up there to visit a ranch that's been in the family since the late 1930s. I hadn't been there in about twenty years -- I believe I was six for my one and only trip -- so it was one of those trips where your brain tries to make sense of the memories of a small child superimposed upon what the adult brain feels like it is experiencing for the first time.

My last trip involved swimming in streams, running after a bull, and learning how to shoot a pistol; this trip was more business. The property has been abandoned for quite some time and we were there to ascertain its value and learn about the logistics of property ownership in Humboldt County from realtors there. Garberville held the title of "Marijuana Capital of the US", though we were told it was now something like 10th place. A thriving marijuana industry creates some interesting issues: someone might be growing pot on your land, someone might be defending that crop of pot, and some DEA agent may be trying to seize your land for that crop. So my dad and I had some open conversations with the realtors there about this issue and learned some interesting facts:

  1. Marijuana production has shifted from outdoor growing to year-round indoor growing operations. This has created a social tension between the off-the-grid environmental types and the marijuana growers. The indoor growers use diesel generators for power, which leads to pollution of the land and water. Water is perhaps the single-most important resource in South Humboldt as it's hard to come by -- make sure to look for water rights if purchasing property there -- so a lot of growers end up getting turned in by their neighbors either due to oily slicks showing up in the local drinking water or because of the loud annoying noise of the generators.
  2. There are rarely prosecutions in Humboldt County for marijuana. California's Campaign Against Marijuana Planting (CAMP) program funds seizure of marijuana plants, but it doesn't provide any funding for prosecution. The police will come in, seize the plants and equipment, add it to their tally, and then leave. The federal government isn't as nice, but they aren't as involved.
  3. It is very easy to get legal work in Garberville -- it is far more lucrative to get $200 for cleaning a pound of pot, so there are plenty of job openings of the W-2 variety.
  4. There isn't much pot-related violence in South Humboldt. There used to be back in the day, but it has settled down, and the Mexican cartels haven't made it that far north yet.
  5. If you are an absentee landlord and need to cover your butt, you can probably just call the local sheriff's department and give them permission to search your property on a regular basis.
  6. The marijuana trade helps keep the property values in South Humboldt up. Many of the sellers will ask for 50% down cash for property ranging from $100K to $600K and will get it. You generally can't get a mortgage on a property without a house, so to protect against the risk of a buyer defaulting-by-jail, sellers ask for this higher down payment -- they also ask because they can.
  7. If someone is driving a brand new pickup with a diesel fuel tank in back, it's not because they are in the construction business.

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