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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