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Shasta Off the Hook for Tying Up Winery Permit

SAN JOSE, Calif. (CN) - Officials in Shasta County, Calif., are not liable for threatening to hold up a landowner's winery permit, a federal judge ruled.

The lawsuit arose out of a series of land disputes starting in 2007 after Reverge Anselmo and Seven Hills Land and Cattle Co. purchased a 1,200-acre property located in the Inwood Valley. After purchasing the property, Anselmo and the company allegedly began clearing it of "weeds, vines, bushes, and dead or dying trees in order to replant the pasture areas of the property."

Shortly thereafter, the plaintiffs received a letter from Shasta's Environmental Health Division, alleging that they had engaged in grading activities without a valid grading permit.

Glenn Hawes, a member of the Shasta Board of Supervisors, then allegedly advised the plaintiffs to "buy mitigation credits and offer them to the County 'in order to end the harassment' and that Hawes 'explicitly mentioned his Stillwater Plains Mitigation Bank as a potential candidate for those mitigation credits.'"

Instead of buying the mitigation credits, however, the plaintiffs attempted to appeal the grading violation and filed suit against members of the board.

The defendants then allegedly obstructed and denied plaintiffs' applications for both a conditional use permit and a Williamson Act contract.

A Williamson Act contract restricts privately owned land to agricultural or related open space use and, in return, landowners receive lower property tax assessments.

U.S. District Judge William Shubb granted the defendants summary judgment last week

"Although plaintiffs have shown that they engaged in constitutionally protected activity and that they suffered adverse action, they have failed to provide the evidence crucial to establishing a causal link between the two," the 37-page opinion states. "Plaintiffs' allegations of retaliation are 'entirely speculative,' and '[t]here is no specific, admissible evidence in the voluminous record that the plaintiffs can cite to support their claims that any of the defendants sought to enforce the law on account of a retaliatory animus.'"

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