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The action in County of Humboldt v. McKee, 2015 Cal. Unpub. LEXIS 4177, began when plaintiffs Humboldt County (County) sued Robert McKee and Buck Mountain Ranch Limited Partnership (collectively McKee). The original litigation (McKee I) involved McKee’s purchase of a property in Humboldt County which he then subdivided and sold. The property was an “agricultural preserve” under the Williamson Act.

In a lengthy unpublished decision, the court upheld the trial court’s decision finding McKee violated County guidelines and the applicable Williamson Act Contract (Contract).  Among other holdings, the court explained “the Williamson Act does not require local governments to permit temporary nonuse of agricultural preserves; the Contract and County guidelines did not permit McKee’s specific activities on the Preserve during cessation of livestock grazing; and the Williamson Act does not preclude local governments from imposing fines or penalties for violations of the act or violations of local guidelines and contracts adopted pursuant to the act.”

With respect to the issue of fines and penalties, the court upheld the trial court’s imposition of $199,100 in penalties against McKee as authorized under the County guidelines and unfair competition law.  McKee argued that the Williamson Act restricts remedies for violations of the Act to contractual remedies, and does not provide for penalties. The court disagreed, noting that, when considering the overall statutory scheme of the Williamson Act, the act does not preclude noncontractual remedies.

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