Fishback Mountain; The Most Beautiful “Illegal Dump” in the County

By Kevin Harris

When Wayne Fishback bought 120 sprawling ridge-top acres in the Simi Hills back in 2000, illness he had no intentions of urban development for the property. Nor does he have such intentions today. His interest was always agriculture-based, and included cattle ranching, among other things, to have a place to retire, and to hand down to his children, when the time comes.

Wayne Fishback

Wayne Fishback

But in order to do anything with his property, Wayne had to do what lots of rural property owners do… fill in ravines and gullies to level off parts of the land to make it useable. Fishback, 70, who was a healthcare design architect until 1993, also considers himself a conservationist, and has always had a deep interest in recycling. As such, he opted to do what he thought was the most responsible option to level his land; bring thousands of cubic yards of solid construction waste, which would otherwise have ended up in local landfills, to level his property.

What followed turned out to be the most frustrating and expensive legal fight of Fishback’s life, as Ventura County claimed the solid waste he trucked in turned his property into an “illegal dump.” The fight, which continues to this day, most recently resulted in a $22 million judgment against Fishback – the highest figure allowed by law, at a December, 2014 trial in Ventura.

fishback.2

But from the very beginning, the county’s claims and actions against Fishback and his parcels have been littered with inconsistencies. For starters,  that the solid waste onsite equate to a massive illegal dump. Yet according to county engineers in 2005, all fill materials used were “listed as inert on the California Integrated Waste Management Listing.” Additionally, the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board deemed Fishback “exempt” from waste water discharge requirements, based on their investigation and onsite inspection last year.

The county has claimed all along that Fishback never acquired the proper permits to place the solid fill material on his land, and as such, the fill was brought on location without any official oversight. Meanwhile Fishback maintains that he had secured any legally required permits, but that he never needed to get permits to operate a dump, since he wasn’t operating a dump.

So on one side we have Fishback, who claims to be not only operating within the law, but to be maintaining his land in the most environmentally responsible way possible, and on the other, the county, which claims, literally, that Fishback has created the largest dump in Ventura County history.

But why would the county go after a rural land owner so fervently for the seeming crime of relieving them of landfill material?

“They covet my land,” Fishback said. “I sit in the middle of the choke point of the wildlife corridor. This is the only connector that’s left between the Santa Monica Mountains, the Simi Hills, Santa Susana and up to the Los Padres National Forest,” he continued. “Now, I’m not fighting that at all. I’m all for it! We’re not doing any major development up there. What I’m interested in is the ag use of the land.”

The county also claims Fishback’s property presents a rock-slide risk to his neighbors, due to the steep slopes of certain, specific hillsides, while according to Fishback, their measurements are not only wrong, but they forced him to stop doing the ground stabilization work he agreed to do anyhow.

“They claimed the slope was steeper than two-to-one, which it is not. And number two, we weren’t able to finish our work on doing what you call slope protection, to prevent that from eroding,” Slope protection, in Fishback’s case, had him laying out strategically placed boulders along the hillside to stabilize the ground.

fishback.3

Sloped hillside with partially-completed slope protection work.

“The average person, they would have been out of this fight nine years ago. The fight started back in 2000 when I bought the property,” Fishback explained. “A big part of this story is them making me out to be a developer… [Judge] Kellegrew’s own decision stated that I couldn’t pull a permit for anything! Nothing. And we tried,” Fishback said.

That part of the decision by Judge Kellegrew, Fishback referred to relates to the trial in late 2014. It was held in Ventura Superior Court in which Judge Kellegrew not only levied a $21.7 million judgment against Fishback, but also ordered him to submit a cleanup plan to the county by the end of February, 2015, followed by removal all of the solid waste from his land by the end of November.

The trial, according to Fishback, was rife with errors and misrepresentations. But like so many others who have found themselves taking on the government in defense of their property or their livelihood, Fishback has exhausted not only his fortune by spending over $4 million on the fight, but he’s exhausted himself in the process, and has suffered two heart attacks during this time. It is for this reason that Fishback was forced to represent himself during the most recent trial – he could no longer afford expensive attorneys.

One glaring example of misrepresentation during the trial had to do with the argument over the angle of slopes on Fishback’s hillsides, as mentioned earlier. “They called my site another La Conchita,” Fishback said. “To make their point, they made a map where they called this a landfill slope.” Fishback was referring to a natural cliff face stack of large boulders. “But in trial, I couldn’t prove this as evidence. This takes a lot of cost of engineers and surveyors mapping this out,” he added.

“I asked him at trial, are these man made slopes or are these natural slopes? He said we eliminated all the natural slopes. My eye!,” Fishback said.

From trial transcripts.

From trial transcripts.

 

Natural cliff face of large boulders which the county mapped as “filled-in hillside” at trial.

Natural cliff face of large boulders which the county mapped as “filled-in hillside” at trial.

Actual filled-in hillside, not presented at trial.

Actual filled-in hillside, not presented at trial.

Fishback was so incensed after the trial that he asked longtime friend and land surveyor Bruce Schofield, of Sierra Land Technologies, to come onto his property and using detailed maps, show him exactly where the county went wrong in the trial. “Some of the sites they said are landfills are in natural ground, and they are right where some of the aerial targets that we set in ’89 that would have been destroyed had they been in a landfill. It’s rock, it’s natural rock,” Schofield said.

Land Surveyor Bruce Schofield, of Sierra Land Technologies.

Land Surveyor Bruce Schofield, of Sierra Land Technologies.

Today, as Wayne Fishback goes through the motions of getting his cleanup plan submitted to the county, as ordered by Judge Kellegrew, he also plans to appeal the $22 million judgment along with the demand to clear the solid fill from his property. Fishback said a Civil Rights case is also in the works, based on a number of procedural violations that took place during the trial.

“It doesn’t make any sense,” Fishback said, as he walked up to a stunning clearing overlooking a remote part of the Simi Hills. “Instead of crushing up these beautiful boulders and shrubs to use as fill, I used inert solid waste that was destined for the landfill, and they call my land a dump because of that? I always envisioned this spot as a great place to build a home for my wife and I,” he said.

A beautiful flat area where Wayne Fishback envisions building a home.

A beautiful flat area where Wayne Fishback envisions building a home.

Bruce Schofield also struggled to make sense of the county’s actions against his friend over the years. Perhaps as a joke, or maybe not, Schofield said under his breath, “Somebody wants his property.”

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*Article and Photos by Kevin Harris

Kevin Harris is a former reporter, editor and journalist, and previous President of Cal State Northridge’s Society of Professional Journalists. He is now a realtor and videographer, and lives with his two children in Oak Park. 

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7 Responses to Fishback Mountain; The Most Beautiful “Illegal Dump” in the County

  1. TRUTH March 15, 2016 at 11:59 am

    Another point I left out, he is getting paid by dump companies around 80 bucks a load so they dont have to go to the dump. Instead he has made his own. I urge you to go see for yourself and dont take my word or anyone elses. off desoto, browns cyn, go until you hit a locked green gate. Please take a look.

    Reply
  2. TRUTH March 15, 2016 at 11:56 am

    Mr. Fishback is a liar. He moved his dumping operation to the valley and has destroyed more land than you can imagine. Ask him about his operation off browns cyn. in chatsworth, or better yet go see for yourselves. Its right off Desoto, if heading east on the 118 make a left and head up until you hit a closed green gate, then look to your left and you can see for yourselves. Its extremely sad he is getting away with destroying land by dumping. I have almost 1,000 photos of his trucks dumping on public land and would post them if I could. I encourage you to go see for yourself.

    Reply
  3. Joel July 15, 2015 at 9:37 pm

    Sounds to me that the county planners have been influenced by the green movement in the form of Agenda 21. The justification is “It’s for the common good” This man and his wife have been destroyed by cowards hiding behind authority.

    Reply
  4. Kevin Harris - this article's reporter/photographer March 16, 2015 at 12:03 pm

    Rich, you may be correct about the non-native plants on Mr. Fishback’s property, I honestly don’t know. But as far as I do know, the plants he has were never a legal issue with the county, nor were the number of cows or horses he has.

    The legal issues involved largely have to do with Fishback using inert solid industrial waste as landfill – according to the county, without the required permits, and as a result, the county then deeming his property an illegal landfill.

    One other response, which is also an opinion… if Fishback’s ranch is somehow a “profit scheme,” that is neither immoral nor illegal. It would make his ranch sustainable.

    Reply
  5. Rich March 13, 2015 at 4:52 pm

    The photos do not look good. it looks green but most of the vegetation in the photos are invasive plants that follow an impact. it is not legal to dump trash on your property even if you bury it. this is a tiny ranch capable of supporting about 4 cows for a year and it is not fenced. just think if all the ranch owners charged haulers big bucks to fill up our ravines with trash and then just buried it, that’s a landfill not a ranch improvement. I don’t believe in too much government but, these photos show a serious abuse. this was a for profit scheme that makes legitimate ranchers and farmers look bad. I hope he can clean it up and not lose the property.

    Reply
    • Citizen Reporter March 15, 2015 at 12:32 am

      Letters from the county say the materials are OK. Our reporter saw it when he visited Fishback and “Fishback Mountain.” 120 acres can support more than 4 head. If he was allowed to finish it, he could plant more appropriate vegetation. He claims he had permission to do the grading. His biggest mistake was running out of money and having to represent himself.

      Reply
  6. Steve March 13, 2015 at 9:55 am

    The last sentence says it all. “Someone” wants his property, badly. He’s being set up. He needs to get the Sierra Club or some other “green environmental organization” involved on his behalf.

    Reply

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