Closed: Case dismissed without a decision on the merits

Willie Benedetti owns two parcels of property totaling 267 acres in Valley Ford, California, in Marin County. The property is within the coastal zone and subject to the requirements of the county’s Land Use Plan for that area. One parcel contains Benedetti’s home and both are used for his companies, Benedetti Farms and Willie Bird Turkeys. Benedetti would like to build a second home on his property, for his son Arthur and daughter-in-law. Arthur is not involved in the daily operations of the companies.

The permit needed to build this house triggers the county’s requirement that the property owned by someone actively and directly engaged in agricultural use of the property. Moreover, when Benedetti finally steps down from day-to-day operations of his farm, he would like to maintain ownership of both companies and the 267-acre parcel, and to continue living in his home, even though he would no longer be actively and directly engaged in agricultural use of the property.

PLF sued on Benedetti’s behalf, on the grounds that he has a federal constitutional right to be free from irrational and illegitimate deprivation of his liberty and property, and that the permit condition effectively takes a significant aspect of his property ownership without compensation. Willie Benedetti died in 2018, and his sons took over the litigation on his behalf. In 2020, the case was dismissed without a decision on the merits.

What’s At Stake?

  • Demanding that property owners remain personally “actively and directly engaged” in agricultural activities means that owners who retire, or become disabled and unable to work, must sell their property to a new owner who is personally capable of farming it.
  • The requirement that the current landowner—as well as all subsequent landowners—remain “actively and directly engaged in agriculture” in perpetuity is not, and can never be, proportional in either nature or degree to any impact arising from property owners’ exercise of their right to use some portion of their property for the construction of a dwelling unit, such as a family home.

Case Timeline

April 11, 2019
June 13, 2018