'Extortion plain and simple': Man's unjustified 'traffic' fee goes to Supremes

(Image by Jan Vašek from Pixabay)
(Image by Jan Vašek from Pixabay)

A homeowner who was forced to pay the local government a $23,000 fee for the “traffic” impact of his new, modular retirement home is going to the U.S. Supreme Court challenging its constitutionality.

According to a report from the Pacific Legal Foundation, “The county claimed that George was required to pay that fee under local legislation that sought to shift the cost of addressing existing and future road deficiencies onto new development. Thus, the county imposed the fee without any evidence tying George’s new home to any specific public costs or impacts.”

The fight is over the $23,000 George Sheetz was forced to pay El Dorado County in California when he installed his home on a vacant lot he’d purchased for that purpose.

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“Holding building permits hostage in exchange for exorbitant fees is extortion plain and simple, whether it’s done at the permit desk or city hall,” said Brian Hodges, senior attorney at Pacific Legal Foundation. “Local governments cannot use the cover of legislation to skirt the Fifth Amendment’s prohibition against taking private property without just compensation.”

Sheetz bought his vacant lot and was working to put a manufactured home there for retirement but was ordered, when he applied for a building permit, to pay the traffic fee.

He paid the fee, under protest, claiming it was an unconstitutional permit condition under Koontz v. St. Johns River Water Management District.

That case established that the government “cannot weaponize the permitting process to extort more land or money from property owners than is needed to pay for the identified public impact of the proposed building project.”

That decision “should have protected” Sheetz from the county, but over the years some courts “have evaded Supreme Court precedents limiting government authority to impose excessive permit fees by creating a massive loophole that allows city councils and other legislative bodies to make such demands free of meaningful constitutional scrutiny.”

Sheetz’ case now is seeking an affirmation from the Supreme Court of landowner rights.

The Supreme Court has agreed to hear the case.

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