Update October 2, 2015

Update October 2, 2015

It was a slam dunk for the County of Marin. Over in ten minutes. I wasn’t questioned nor allowed to speak or even able to present an additional 700 new signatures from the online petition just received this past week calling for a cooperative plan.


The County appointed Receiver was approved by the Judge and has officially taken over the control of my property. What that specifically means, we will have to see. My attorney, Paul Smith, did get some of the original language of the court order changed to soften the likelihood of the receiver taking my house keys and throwing me off my property.

So for now, I’m still here. We’ll keep you posted as events unfold…

In any case, I am so touched and appreciative of the overwhelming response in support of The Last Resort. Thank you thank you thank you! This in itself gives me hope for the future. Many of you have taken the time and energy to write such beautiful letters. We will begin putting some of these up on the website (after first receiving the author’s permission) sometime next week.

With deep gratitude,

P.S. I only learned yesterday that it was our Supervisor Steve Kinsey who was pushing for a County appointed receiver to take over my property. He said the “receiver being proposed will help, not hurt, David”. Hmmmm.

If you want to express your views to Kinsey, here’s his email address:

County of Marin vs. David Lee Hoffman

County of Marin vs. David Lee Hoffman
County legal documents have now exceeded 12 inches in height and are rapidly increasing. Our county tax dollars hard at work!

David Lee Hoffman with assistant June McCrory. Photo by A.J. Marson.

David Lee Hoffman with assistant June McCrory. Photo by A.J. Marson.

In just two days, Friday, October 2nd, I will go in front of Honorable Judge Paul M. Haakenson to hear how I will be punished for building 42 years without a permit. If you care about my life’s work, and have not already signed our online petition, your signature will be greatly appreciated.

Several of you have asked about attending the hearing. While it probably won’t help my case, it will certainly boost my spirit to see you there. Here is the official court case name and number:


Friday, October 2nd at 9am, Department E at the Superior Court of California County of Marin.

We will do another mailing shortly after the judge has made his decision.

Thank you all so much for your letters of support, donations, good thoughts and for signing our petition.




To my dear and valued customers:

My effort to create a working model of eco-sustainability is now facing demolition (including the pu-erh caves). As many of you already know, the control of my home and property is about to be taken over by a court appointed receiver.

The court hearing is in San Rafael on Friday, October 2, 2015. The judge will determine a course of action to punish me for building forty-two years without a permit. Current fines are in excess of $350,000. 00, the majority which have already been added to my property tax bill. Thus, the future of The Phoenix Collection is very much uncertain.

Please take a moment to kindly sign the petition as soon as possible. If you’re inspired and have the time, please write a letter to Marin County Supervisor Steve Kinsey (and send a copy to me, please). The petition and letters of support will be submitted to the court on October 2, 2015.

If you would like to receive future updates about this issue, please sign up for the mailing list.

Your support is much appreciated!

Thanks as always,
David Lee Hoffman


This issue is much larger than me losing my home: Update – 9.10.15

County poised to assign receiver to take control of The Last Resort

The County has filed a lawsuit to appoint a receiver to take control of The Last Resort. The hearing will be on Friday, October 2, 2015 at 9:00am, in front of Hon. Judge Paul M. Haakenson, Marin County Superior Court.

We are so grateful that many of you have already signed the petition and written letters of support. Certainly if you are inspired to write another letter, this would be a good time.

Send letters ℅:
David Lee Hoffman
P.O. Box 10, Lagunitas,CA

or by email to


Our attorney, Paul Smith, will be submitting your letters along with the previous petition signed by 1,000 supporters to the judge.

Additionally, Paul will present Adam Posard, an expert architect and builder as my choice for an alternative to the court-appointed receiver. The county’s receiver will likely work to bring the property up to code as quickly as possible, by destruction and removal of all that does not comply to all codes [the entire property?].

Adam, on the other hand, will not be so trigger-happy; he will focus on health and safety, working alongside expert engineers to preserve the artistic integrity of the entire site and its fully functioning zero-waste systems.

Paul Smith will continue to work with the county to find a resolution to reduce their fines and penalties, which now exceed $350,000, back to the original offer of $60,000, which I have already accepted.

This issue is much larger than me losing my home.

At its heart, the solution to the county’s problem is the recognition of the view held by historic experts: that The Last Resort Lagunitas is an important folk art environment. The sanctioning of new, environmentally friendly water recycling systems is also much needed.

Supporting The Last Resort Lagunitas is a small and important step in the direction of a sustainable future.

David Lee Hoffman

Lagunitas local John Torrey’s LETTER TO THE EDITOR

Point Reyes Light, August 27, 2015
Hoffman’s site is historic

Regarding the “Tea Purveyor” article, the piece makes no mention of the legal framework behind historic documentation which is to protect the property from demolition acknowledging the site’s historic status protection from CEQA. A report documenting the property’s potential as County historic landmark was provided to Supervisor Kinsey almost 3 years ago.

I put it together. Kinsey simply sat on it.

The County needs a demolition permit in order to proceed with any destruction of the property. Even if the county waives the need for a demolition permit they are still liable to a CEQA challenge if there is any threat to potential historic structures on the property.

The property in its entirety is, like Watts Tower, a folk art environment and is, according to three historic experts, protected by two criteria of the California Register of Historical Resources. It should be noted that if the property is not listed but nevertheless meets the criteria specified in California Public Resources Code section 5024.1 (defining eligibility for listing in the California Register of Historical Resources), then it is presumed to be “historically significant.”

Nor did the article make any mention of perhaps the most egregious example of local political betrayal. A 1,000 person petition was provided to Kinsey along with the historic report. Speaking for the petitioners, I can state unequivocally that the petition makes clear that San Geronimo Valley residents want a cooperative plan developed to save the property. Kinsey never even acknowledged the petition. Again, he just sat on it. He doesn’t get it. We don’t work for him. He works for us. We’re the boss, not him. Obviously, ignoring petitions sets a very dangerous precedent for the entire county.

Kinsey has said many times to me and others that “he has always wanted to save Hoffman’s property.” Yet like a lot of politicians he has no intention of saving the property at all. He simply says things like that to make himself feel good. It’s a pure giveaway line. David, his attorney Paul Smith and I have worked tirelessly to come up with the basics of a cooperative plan to be developed in conjunction with the County to save the property based on the following:

Removal of tea from the site. Presentation to the County of an independent hydrology report documenting the site’s grey- water, blackwater, and drainage systems. A revision to the financial obligations of the property that will provide for necessary future maintenance of the property and payment of fines while not at the same time creating unsustainable debt. A third party professional agreeable to the County to act as an alternate to the receiver for the property designated by the County. This person would have the ability to evaluate and execute necessary health and safety upgrades on the property. Recognition of the property as an historic resource in accordance with criteria of the California Register of Historical Resources.

Will the County meet with us or will they simply ignore Valley residents and the state’s environmental law? Hopefully the Point Reyes Light will pursue this issue head on in the true spirit of investigative journalism and its Pulitzer Prize reputation.

John Torrey

Richard Lang and Judith Selby Lang’s LETTER TO THE EDITOR

Point Reyes Light, August 20, 2015
Support Hoffman

Thanks to Samantha Kimmey for her report (Aug. 13, 2015) about David Hoff- man, tea purveyor par excellence, sustainability maven and artist of the first order. We were heartened to read that the county is considering special designations for some of the buildings at Hoffman’s architectural wonder, the Last Resort, in Lagunitas. We support this decision however it is important to recognize that every stitch of the Last Resort is important to the whole. Being there one feels the uplift of being inside a great vision, coherent and, above all, useful. It’s not a far stretch to feel the embodiment of great structures that were both useful and stunning to the psyche. What Hoffman has realized in stone and wood is nothing short of the wonder of Simon Rodia’s Watts Towers in Los Angeles or the standing stones of Stonehenge—beautiful in their own right and functional as an agricultural time piece.

We’ve known Hoffman some 40 years, since his arrival in the San Geronimo Val- ley, and have marveled at his energy for building and designing supreme useful- ness into the very structures crucial to our survival on planet earth. Hoffman has fashioned water systems, food systems, and waste systems that are self-sustaining. In our drought times his exemplary water works, that use grey water for his worms and garden, should be adopted as true alternatives to ameliorate our water crisis.

Everything at Hoffman’s home is beautiful and beautifully useful. The Last Re- sort is a work of art. Our vote is for the county receiver to re-shape the entirety of the Last Resort into a teaching center for the beauty of sustainability—as a precious resource for now and for the future.

We encourage everyone to sign the petition of support at http://thelastresortla- gunitas.org/ and write to Supervisor Steve Kinsey (skinsey@marincounty.org)

A.J. Marson has created a short film, a testimony to David’s fine work…

Richard Lang and Judith Selby Lang
Forest Knolls

Point Reyes Light Newspaper Article

August 13, 2015
Anticipating takeover, tea purveyor promotes worm systems

By Samantha Kimmey
A grand Japanese farm- style roof, a boat amidst a pool of rainwater, and lush green plants growing atop an outside restroom are some of the most eye- catching features of famed tea importer David Lee Hoffman’s ornate Lagunitas home. For Mr. Hoffman, how- ever, it is sustainable living systems that he has installed and invented on his two adjacent proper- ties—which he calls the Last Resort—that are paramount. “For me, this place is about the systems, not the structures,” he said at an open house he held on Saturday.

Mr. Hoffman orga-nized the event, which drew perhaps 200 friends and supporters over the course of the day, because he fears that his compound is in immediate jeopardy: Three years after a court judgment in the county’s favor, his lawyer said the county wants to place his property under a court-appointed authority to tackle the dozen or so unpermitted buildings and code violations.

The county’s code enforcement specialist, Cristy Stanley, confirmed on Wednesday that this is indeed the case. “Citing health and safety concerns, the County has elected to seek the appointment of a receiver to remediate a long list of significant code violations on David Lee Hoffman’s residential properties,” she wrote in an email.

Mr. Hoffman will be allowed to remain at his home when a receiver evaluates the property, a lawyer for the county in charge of receivership proceedings, Charisse Smith, said in the same email. Ms. Smith also said the receiver must “seek specific instructions from the court before taking any action that hasn’t been previously authorized by court order.”

In 2012, Mr. Hoffman was fined over $200,000 by a judge, after the county charged that he had built a vast array of structures without permits and that his water recycling systems could contaminate the watershed. (Those fees, with interest now roughly $300,000, have been tacked on to his property tax bill, Mr. Hoffman’s lawyer said.) Mr. Hoffman freely admits to building without permits for decades, but stresses that his system for recycling human waste is “completely closed.” Advocates have hoped to secure historic status for the place—as representative of the environmental movement of the ‘60s and ‘70s, and as an “artistic environment”— but so far that effort has not borne fruit.

Mr. Hoffman, widely credited as one of the first to bring high quality teas from China to the United States, is now in the process of winding down his tea import business, the Phoenix Collection, which he started in 2009 after selling his previous tea business in 2004. He made his final trip to China just a few weeks ago, and he will cease operations when he sells the remainder of the tea, likely within a year. The county says he cannot operate the business out of his home; after a recent rental opportunity fell through, Mr. Hoffman, who is in his 70s, decided that he is too exhausted to keep going.

Fearing his days of owning the Last Resort are also numbered, he hosted this weekend’s event to educate people about living sustainably and, in particular, the power of earthworm-based composting, or vermiculture. He also wanted to celebrate: it was both Mr. Hoffman’s birthday and the anniversary of the day he moved to the property. Between and after lectures, guests sipped on oolongs and pu-erhs out of thimble-sized white cups, munched on roasted eggplant and falafel in pita bread, and ate forkfuls of moist chocolate birthday cake.

Mr. Hoffman, in a brown linen shirt with a Nehru collar, said he has been working with earthworms—“one of the most important creatures on the planet”— for 44 years. The worms that today turn left over food scraps and human waste into compost all descend from his original cohort.

In his “Worm Palace,” a six-foot long container, the annelids create compost from a mix of food scraps, kitchen grey- water, and calcium from cooked bones and oyster shells. The worms turn this mixture into worm castings, a nutrient-rich fertilizer, which he uses to grow vegetables. To him, this epitomizes the crucial cycle of ecological living. On Saturday, he scooped a handful of crawling worms out to show a small group listening to his presentation. “Smells like good, healthy earth,” he said, offering his audience a whiff.

Then there is his more contentious system, which he calls the Grand Pissoir. It’s a toilet that sends human waste—along with scoops of carbonaceous material to provide the right balance of nutrients— to another group of earthworms. Once the worms eat it, it’s “not poop.” Then he corrected himself. “Well, it’s worm poop,” or fertilizer akin to that created from kitchen scraps. He got the system fully functioning just last year, he told the crowd. The water that flushes the toilet is filtered, he says, then pumped to the roof where it is “bio-filtered” through plants and soil, and then it goes back to the toilet. Rainwater replenishes the system as water evaporates.

“This system is easily scalable,” he said, and can work with just six hours of sunlight a day and at least 20 inches of rain a year. But, he conceded, the politics of operating a system that recycles human waste is complicated. “The laws of nature and the laws that we create don’t match up,” he said.
Mr. Hoffman’s attorney, Paul Smith, worries that a receiver would wipe out his client’s work. That’s because the point of a receiver, Mr. Smith said, “is to bring property into compliance as quickly as possible. Well, guess how that is? You tear everything down.”

Mr. Hoffman has paid for a hydrologic study of the property, a final draft of which is due this week, to prove that those systems are safe. Mr. Smith said he hopes to find a way to convince the county not to appoint a receiver but instead bring in a construction expert to evaluate the buildings and try to bring what was deemed unsafe into compliance.
 Ms. Stanley said that the receiver, Eric Beatty, would attempt to save some structures. “[He] will study the possibility of legalizing some structures on the properties that have unique alternative building design characteristics,” she wrote. “The County adopted an alternative building design ordinance in 2014 that may provide flexibility in code standards to facilitate the legalization process for some structures on the properties.”
To friends at the open house, the prospect of losing all or pieces of Last Resort was painful to consider. Marilyn Milos, who lives in the valley, called it “heart- breaking” and said the property should be “appreciated, not destroyed.”

Mr. Hoffman is doubtful of convincing the county to save all his structures, though he is willing to let his property fall out of his hands to an organization or nonprofit that will care for it. Now that he has finished designing the systems, he said at the open house, “I feel like my work is done.”

SPACES Website and Letter of Support

Screen shot 2015-01-26 at 10.07.58 AM

SPACES, a website that aims to document and archive art environments around the world has created a page on their website devoted to The Last Resort. The director of spaces, Jo Farb Hernández also pledged support for The Last Resort in a letter the Marin County Board of Supervisors. See the letter here.

Le Grand Pissour

Screen shot 2015-01-23 at 12.22.52 PM

Jim Edelhauser & Cecile Lelievre have put together a short film documenting Le Grand Pissour. Watch it here.

David Lee Hoffman CCTV (China Central Television) Segment

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This beautiful short film on David Lee Hoffman was cut from a CCTV series. See it here.

Producer/Director: Weimin Zhang
Cinematographer: Pedro Gomez; Andrew Marson
Sound: Aubrey Moody
Editor: Andrew Marson