Marin Independent Journal Newspaper Article – October 3, 2018

Lagunitas’ exotic Last Resort seeks reprieve from auction block

By Richard Halstead
(link)

It appears the final chapter has not yet been written for David Lee Hoffman’s so-called “The Last Resort,” a Tibetan-style experiment in sustainable living in Lagunitas.

Marin Superior Court Judge Paul Haakenson on Friday rejected a request from a receiver — whom he appointed in 2015 to bring Hoffman’s funky compound into compliance with the law — for permission to tear down two buildings at the site.

Haakenson also rejected a request by Hoffman’s attorney to validate the Marin County Architectural Commission’s determination in 2016 that all 36 of The Last Resort’s structures have “architectural significance.” Under state law, such a designation would mean that the buildings would be subject to the California Historical Building Code, which is less stringent than the county’s building code.

Instead, Haakenson directed the receiver, Eric Beatty, and Hoffman to meet and confer in an attempt to reach agreement on which of The Last Resorts’ structures are architecturally significant and thus should be evaluated under the Historical Building Code.

After settling on the property at 2 Alta Ave. and 230 Cintura Ave. in 1973, Hoffman, an importer of exotic teas, modified existing cabin-style residences that had been built in the early 1900s and made a number of other improvements. He added storage buildings, ponds, retaining walls and ornamental structures — including a full-size replica of a fishing boat suspended in a pond of rainwater — all without permits.

The style of his building was influenced by a decade Hoffman spent backpacking through Tibet, Nepal and elsewhere in Asia.

County health inspectors were not impressed, however, by Hoffman’s unpermitted outdoor composting toilet or kitchen composting system that utilized worms and a series of open-air moats. They said the moats were a breeding ground for mosquitoes and the toilet threatened the aquifer and nearby streams with contamination from sewage.

“There is no urgent need to deal with those buildings; they’re not unsafe,” Hoffman’s attorney, Peter Prows, said after the hearing.

Prows said the building of most concern should be Hoffman’s tea house, which he said is also the compound’s biggest and most architecturally significant structure.

“It’s built into and off the side of a hillside,” Prows said, “and the concern is if there is an earthquake it will just come tumbling down and people might get hurt. If you’re actually trying to solve a real problem like addressing things that are unsafe, let’s start there.”

In his filing, Prows stated that Hoffman has commissioned a plan from a San Anselmo architect, Adam Posard, to make The Last Resort safe, while preserving its historic structures, consistent with the Historical Building Code. He asserted that Posard’s plan should be made the basis for the receiver’s renovation of The Last Resort.

In his tentative ruling, Haakenson wrote, “The court is not opposed to modification of its 2015 order, and allowing the restoration of the property to occur under the less onerous regulatory requirements of the Historical Building Code, should the property be designated accordingly.”

But Haakenson also stated that any restoration plan that rests upon application of the Historical Building Code “will require the county to accept this designation.”

“It is not for the court to direct the county to apply the Historical Building Code in permitting construction, or approving any construction or restoration,” Haakenson wrote.

Haakenson noted in the ruling that Hoffman has twice before ignored court orders to bring his property into compliance with the law.

The Last Resorts’ application to the Marin County Architectural Commission in 2016 was supported by three experts. Sim Van der Ryn, former California state architect, lauded the “advanced ecological design” of the compound, comparing it favorably to the work of Frank Lloyd Wright. Mark Hulbert, a licensed conservation architect and cultural resources consultant, compared The Last Resort’s historical importance to that of the Marin County Civic Center. And Jo Farb Hernandez, director of SPACES, a nonprofit dedicated to the preservation of historically significant art spaces, wrote that “there could be no better example of a site worthy of preservation.”

Hoffman still faces an uphill battle, however, to preserve his ecological Shangri-La.

A previous ruling against him for ignoring building codes has left him saddled with more than $226,000 in fines. After the receiver was appointed in 2015, the court granted Beatty a $93,000 lien to cover the cost of carrying out the order. On Friday, Haakenson granted the receiver’s request for an additional $205,000 lien.

According to Beatty’s filing for Friday’s hearing, this lien “may not be extended unless the more than $385,000 in delinquent property tax assessments from 2014 are paid by Mr. Hoffman.”

Beatty, who could not be reached for comment, states in the filing that if the tax assessments aren’t paid, all of The Last Resorts’ properties could be sold at auction in 2019.

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