Simi Valley resident thrown in jail for contempt of court; after 20-year property fight against Ventura County

By Michael Hernandez 

VENTURA—Wayne Fishback, 75 years old, was thrown in jail today for contempt of court by Superior Court Judge Jeffrey G. Bennett—for his failure to meet the conditions of the Court in his 20-year property fight against Ventura County.

“I gave you extra time to inform the Court if you intended to comply,” said Judge Bennett in Courtroom 21 on Friday.   “You have been ordered on more than one occasion to comply.  You have failed to comply and not made any effort and this is contempt of this court.  I will proceed as the law requires.”

Fishback said he was not in danger of flight and asked the judge if he could have an extra week to put his affairs in order in regards to moving out of his house.  Ventura County Attorney David T. Cook contested his request and said to the judge that Fishback was “a flight risk.”

Afterwards Attorney Cook who bragged that he worked on the O.J. Simpson court case explained to the Citizens Journal that the court had issued a “coercive civil” contempt action that would give Fishback “indefinite incarceration” which “will hopefully bend his will to the contour of the law.  He has the keys to his jail cell in his pocket,” said Cook.

Ventura County claims that Fishback has made an “illegal dump” on his property and seeks the removal of 100,000 cubic yards of “illegal dumping.”    

The issue in the Fishback case:  Ventura County vs. private property owner of 120 acres of sprawling prime land ridge-top acres purchased in Simi Valley Hills in 2000.  It is a classic fight between a property owner and local government on what can be done on private property.  Wayne Fishback has spent almost five million dollars in defending his property rights with lawyers and engineers and says he is now “homeless” and “out of money” to defend himself.

Fishback, a design architect until 1993, considers himself a conservationist with a deep interest in recycling.  He has done what other rural property owners do…fill in ravines and gullies to level off parts of the land he bought to make it useable.   Fishback has done this by bringing in thousands of cubic yards of solid construction waste to level his property.  Ventura County claims this solid waste has made his property into an “illegal dump” and Fishback has been fighting a $22 million judgment against him issued in a December, 2014 trial by Ventura County Superior Court Judge Kent M. Kellegrew (who is leaving the bench, Office Number 8, at the end of the year)—the highest figure allowed by law.

Ventura County has claimed that Fishback never acquired the proper permits to place solid fill material on his land and that the fill was bought to location without any official oversight.  Meanwhile, Fishback maintains that he secured legally required permits and that he never needed to get permits to operate a dump, since he doesn’t own or operate a dump.

Fishback claims that all fill materials used on his property were “listed as inert” on the California Integrated Waste Management Listing and that the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board deemed Fishback “exempt” from waste water discharge requirements based on their investigation and onsite inspection in 2014.

(Editor’s Note:  Please see Citizens Journal story written by Kevin Harris posted on March 8, 2015: https://www.citizensjournal.us/fishback-mountain-the-most-beautiful-illegal-dump-in-the-county/.)

Fishback told Citizens Journal reporter Kevin Harris that Ventura County covets “my land…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.  We’re not doing any major development up there.  What I’m interested in, is the ag use of the land.”

Ventura County claims that Fishback’s property presents a rock-slide risk to his neighbors, due to the steep slopes of certain, specific hillsides.   “They claimed the slope was steeper than two-to-one, which it is not.  We weren’t able to finish our work on doing what you call slope protection, to prevent eroding.”  Fishback was placing boulders along the hillside to stabilize the ground.

Superior Court Judge Kellegrew ordered Fishback to submit a cleanup plan to the country by the end of February, 2015 and to remove all the solid waste from his land by the end of November of that year. 

The fight against Ventura County has drained Fishback of his finances and he has also suffered two heart attacks during this time.  During the 2014 trial, Fishback had to represent himself because he could no longer afford expensive attorneys.  Meanwhile, Fishback has a pending $200 million dollar lawsuit against Ventura County filed in Los Angeles federal court in 2018.  During his Friday court contempt hearing, Fishback said he was not able to get a public defender for a civil case.  The case is set to come back to the court again on Thursday, March 12th.

“This is a fraud.  Everything the county has done is fraud.   We don’t have constitutional rights.  I have done everything that I can do.   I used to have a net worth of $120 million.  My wife, Carol, is  now living with my son in Texas.   I am homeless.  In two more months, my ranch house will be completely lost.”

Fishback has six children and five grandchildren.  The architect is known for giving back to the community and working with the homeless.  He worked with the Five Points Foundation in the development of a property at the corner of Florence and Western in South Central Los Angeles known as “Death Alley” because of its high murder rate (the site of the Rodney King 1992 protests). 

(Editor’s Note:  See Citizens Journal article written by Tim Pompey and posted on July 18, 2017:   https://www.citizensjournal.us/local-architect-part-plan-reimagine-south-central-l2/.) 

In 2000, Fishback, who has lived in Illinois, Mississippi, Florida and New York purchased over 35 separate lots and amassed over 160 acres of land in Ventura County as well as 400 acres in Los Angeles County to build his dream home for his family of six children and five grandchildren. 

Fishback’s family legacy is now tied up in a fight with Ventura County—which he may very well lose—and which has got him in jail indefinitely.

 

Michael Hernandez, Co-Founder of the Citizens Journal—Ventura County’s online news service; editor of the History Makers Report and founder of History Makers International—a community nonprofit serving youth and families in Ventura County, is a former Southern California daily newspaper journalist and religion and news editor. He has worked 25 years as a middle school teacher in Monrovia and Los Angeles Unified School Districts. Mr. Hernandez can be contacted by email at [email protected].


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16 Responses to Simi Valley resident thrown in jail for contempt of court; after 20-year property fight against Ventura County

  1. Leanne Braemar March 16, 2020 at 3:44 am

    Nature . Karma. Payback

    Reply
  2. Savannah Divelbiss March 12, 2020 at 7:11 pm

    How do I find out his bday so I can look online for his booking number so I can write this man some mail
    Ventura County always wins after they leave uu homeless and poor

    Reply
  3. The truth March 9, 2020 at 4:51 pm

    Frustrated,
    The truth is there is no way 500 trucks a day could bring loads, that is over 60 loads per hour, 140 would be 17 hour still not realistic. Just the fact you are using those numbers as fact shows you have no credibility and dont know the facts. Also the material was tested and tested as clean by leagal standards. You obviously have a hidden agenda against Mr. Fishback. Remember will be judged one day.

    Good Day!

    The Truth.

    Reply
  4. Frustrated law abiding citizen March 8, 2020 at 10:18 pm

    All of Fishbecks sympathizers seem to be very good people but are extremely unaware in these cases and the shenanigans that he’s created for over 20 years.
    I felt the same way everyone else does seven years ago. It’s his property I said let him do what he wants to do with it. Up until I realized that everything he was doing up there was illegal. No permits were filed no (mandatory)environmental Impact reports were done.nothing. He just feels he could move under the radar. He plays off to be some broke poor abused old man. Well let me tell you, that poor abused old man was running anywhere from 140 trucks to 500 trucks a day, 6 days a week sometimes, even 7 days, through a 1 lane Canyon road that goes 7 miles long. He was charging every single dump $140 whether it was tainted asphalt dirty dirt (tainted dirt from remodeling gas stations) concrete and rebar car parts you name it it was a dumpsite. There was no one monitoring or testing the items that he was bringing in because it was illegal.
    His main goal was to make the property that he bought all flat land by any means. That is why the counties and the cities require permits and reports. There would be inspections if it was legal. So over the past seven years in Brown’s Canyon he’s made anywhere from $17,000 a day up until $70,000 a day the amount of money is unbelievable. He was able to lore so many trucks to his illegal dump site because the legal dump sites charge $350 to dump. And then there is his illegal activities of renting the site for venues up there as well. And not to mention at least 60 to 100 people living on that piece of property with no running water and no septic systems no electricity so where do you think the human waste is going to? They have outdoor sources for cooking because the tun down campers don’t have a kitchen inside. They have already started several fires up there.
    If you have to come home through this canyon anytime past 730, you’re taking your life into your own hands because the flu of them are flying out of the canyon and most of them so drunk they can’t even see the street right. Just look for the signs at the bottom of the canyon posted on the County sign when they’re going to have their parties sometimes they just mark the poles with ribbons sometimes just balloons and sometimes they build very elaborate signs for events they will be holding. They will stick out because they are all in Spanish. Their venues have anywhere from 100 to 300 people in attendance.
    So for those that think he should continue to do what he is doing would you be willing to let him do all of this next-door to your house if he buys that piece of property? Because he can. If so, please post your address. I’m sure he’ll be glad to take you up on it.

    Reply
  5. Krew March 7, 2020 at 7:43 pm

    To those like Sherry and Octogent who bought the BS from the County or are in their back pocket, you’re off base. It’s a complicated issue but one simple fact is that California itself created programs specifically to dispose of construction debris and inert materials. These materials are separate from other type items that go to different types of facilities or landfills. Mr. Fishback bent over backwards to do all the paperwork and permitting required. In fact, there’s disparate treatment because in several cases he did more than he had to. Inert materials where going to the site and he was just one of several operations of that type in the Los Angeles area but they have picked on him for 20 years because of their own agenda for the land.

    Reply
  6. Krew March 7, 2020 at 7:33 pm

    Sherry Chanslor, you have absolutely no idea what you’re talking about!

    Reply
  7. Sherry Chanslor March 7, 2020 at 5:31 pm

    This “poor old man” has been running illegal dumps for years making tons of money. He was ordered by the courts to clean up the environmental mess he created and he has ignored court orders. The thousands of dump trucks speeding up and down our scenic canyons for years with their toxic loads of construction waste were a hazard and the sites remain polluted to this day. He deserves to go to jail.

    Reply
  8. William Hicks March 7, 2020 at 4:55 pm

    If you’ve ever been to a County Supervisors meeting in regards to the enforcement of SOAR, then you may see the fingerprints of County Supervisors like Linda Parks all over this issue.

    Reply
  9. Joe March 7, 2020 at 3:39 pm

    They put him in jail but let the real criminals go free! Th county just wants his land, its so obvious!

    Reply
  10. Kimberly March 7, 2020 at 12:13 pm

    No one likes to see an old man go to jail. It’s a very sad thing but Fishback did this to himself. He ran an illegal dump with all kinds of toxic materials for years running about 500 trucks a day through a private residential Canyon. Making millions of dollars in cash. Filling in canyons and ravines. Not only did he do it in Los Angeles county but he did it in Ventura county as well.
    You can’t just choose to change the whole topography of mountains without even thinking about driving permit switch, he would’ve never gotten. There’s a reason for that. No one is above the law. Not even someone is litigious and wealthy as Fishback. He was given ample warnings over years and years of time and still chose to be defiant. and now his own stubbornness has landed him in jail. Now I hope they go for the Dump truck drivers that drove all the illegal material into there. They are just as wrong and should be held just as accountable. right up until a few days ago they were still dumping up here. Ignoring the signs that the county had placed up. Absolutely ridiculous.… Follow the law people.

    Reply
  11. Octogent March 7, 2020 at 9:23 am

    Did he collect money from those people who dumped on his land? If so, he was operating an illegal dump.

    Reply
  12. Camille Harris March 7, 2020 at 9:18 am

    This is a classic case of using code enforcement as emminent domain. Mr. Fishback needs call the Institute for Justice and ask for Scott Bullock. They addressed some abuses that occurred in Ventura and provided outstanding legal help. Thanks to Mike Hernandez for putting light on this abomination.

    Reply
  13. Paige March 7, 2020 at 8:19 am

    Absolutely outrageous! Shame on Ventura for pursuing this persecution of this poor man! They obviously want his property and will resort to any means to obtain it. To tell him his permits are not valid because he is operating a dump, which is not true is so underhanded. I don’t know how these people sleep at night. Where is justice? How a judge can allow such tactics is beyond me. This man obviously cares about the land and is simply trying to make it suitable for his family to live there. The government loves to delve into its endless abyss of red tape, and nonsensical bureaucracy. I am sick for Mr. Fishback that he is in jail and lost his fortune for standing up for himself. Typical that they order him to clean all this up when he is destitute and it’s not possible.

    Reply
  14. Citizen Reporter March 7, 2020 at 12:45 am

    Looks like trumped up charges- abuses – a Kafkaesque scenario. Citizen Fishback persecuted by the state because he got in the way of their desire to control the land for their bizarre “sustainability” agenda.

    He says he had permits, but govt. says they weren’t valid because they claim his property is a dump. 20 years of harassment and litigation by a govt. which has unlimited time and money (our money) have destroyed him.

    The DA and Court would impose a de facto life sentence on a sick, 75 year old broken man who is now bankrupt and homeless. But, no problem- he can secure his freedom merely by removing 100,000 cubic yards of material, while he is destitute and in jail. He is being made an example of what happens when you cross them.

    Reply
  15. Kevin Harris March 6, 2020 at 9:15 pm

    Great job on covering this, Michael. I feel bad for Mr. Fishback, that stubborn son of a gun! Being right (which I believe he is, and was from the beginning) doesn’t guarantee you’ll prevail in a war against a government with unlimited means and time to fight you.

    I hope he gets out of jail soon. he does NOT belong in there.

    Reply

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