May 12, 2015

Family sues over unauthorized demolition of vacation home

BY COURTENAY EDELHART | The Bakersfield Californian | May 11, 2015 |

The owner of a patch of Mojave Desert land upon which a small vacation home once stood is suing a wind farm developer that demolished the cabin without authorization.

In a lawsuit filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court on Thursday, Darlene Dotson and her two sons accused EDP Renewables North America of leveling the home deliberately because Dotson had rebuffed offers to buy her property.

Houston-based EDP and its subsidiary, Rising Tree Wind Farm, told the county it had intended to demolish a nearly identical cabin nearby that it was authorized to take down, but destroyed Dotson’s vacation home by mistake. It told authorities the home was unoccupied, in poor condition, and “uninhabitable.”

Dotson could not be reached for comment, but her attorney, Morgan Stewart, said he finds it hard to believe anyone could accidentally demolish a whole house, and the structure was in active use as a place for family gatherings.

“It’s pretty clear this was intentional,” he said. “The house wasn’t empty. It was fully furnished. There were antiques and family photos in it that can’t be replaced, and to this day the family doesn’t know what’s happened to any of that.”

The company owns adjacent land and had approached Dotson multiple times about buying the five acres that contained her home, Stewart said. EDP had been putting heavy pressure on neighbors to sell, too, warning that property values would plummet after the wind turbines went up, he said.

In the lawsuit, the company’s efforts to convince Dotson to sell were described as coercion and “near militant.”

After the home was destroyed, the company again offered to buy the property, Stewart said. One of the owner’s two adult sons, David Dotson, discovered the house was gone in March, when he drove over to the site to perform routine monthly maintenance.

David Dotson was “stunned, horrified and confused,” when he found the house had seemingly vanished into thin air, according to the lawsuit. Moreover, the natural terrain where it had stood had been altered by construction crews in a way that increased the risk of flooding, the complaint contended.

Darlene Dotson had intended to keep the eastern Kern County home in the family because it had sentimental and historical significance, according to the lawsuit.

Dotson is African American, and the home sat on land owned by African American homesteaders in the early 20th century, according to the lawsuit.

The complaint asserts the demolition was part of a conspiracy designed to pressure the Dotsons into selling. It seeks unspecified damages and legal fees.

EDP did not respond to a request for an interview. Attorney John O’Malley, who represents EDP, declined to comment on the case.

In an incident report filed with the county, the workers who demolished the home said the “condition in the Mojave Desert made structural identification extremely difficult.”

The crew had used an assessor property number, printed overhead maps, and GPS to locate the home, but GPS was not functioning and no other building matching the description was found in the area, according to the report.

The home that was destroyed was described as an “uninhabitable structure” with no doors, no windows and a roof partially caved in.

The company’s contractor, CVE Contracting Group Inc., also is named as a defendant. Phone calls to CVE were not returned.

EDP has been buying or leasing land in the area to make way for the 5,300-acre, 250-megawatt Rising Tree/Addison wind farm project, which the county approved in May of last year.

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