Special report: Family waiting for justice after desert cabin wrongfully demolished
Acting without their consent and without a permit to do so, someone demolished the Dotson family's cabin in a space near Mojave that many would describe as the middle of nowhere.
It happened nearly two years ago, in the middle of a long fight between EDP Renewables -- doing business locally as the Rising Tree Wind Farm -- and Darlene Dotson. Dotson’s four children are heavily involved as well.
The Dotson family, of Bakersfield, enjoy the desert. They ride motorcycles, quads, camp, hunt and take in a view of the stars that can’t be had in large cities.
For years their trips to Mojave involved a 504-square foot cabin that was built in 1947 by a homeowner who received five acres via the Homestead Act. It was purchased by the Dotson family about 30 years ago.
Sentimental value aside, the land on which the cabin sits wasn’t worth much until recently - not until renewable energy companies moved into the area to build wind farms, a key cog in California’s green energy future.
In 2009, EDP began buying and entering lease agreements with the few property owners that remained on a large swath of land in the foothills of the Tehachapi Mountains.
Slowly all of the Dotson’s neighbors agreed to sell - some for small amounts, others for as much as $1 million. But Dotson refused to sell. Her children say she long had plans to retire to the cabin.
Those plans changed one day with a phone call from a neighbor. Somebody had torn down their cabin.
“I was in shock. I kept saying ‘What do you mean?’ I didn't believe it. I still don't believe it,” said Nanette Uzzle, Darlene’s oldest daughter. “Every time we'd come here ... I expect to see a house here and I don't see it. And it's disheartening.”
Immediately, the Dotsons contacted EDP, sad and angry.
“They violated our rights. They trespassed on property, they stole things from us,” said Darlena Dotson, another of Darlene’s daughters. “They didn't even leave any rubble for us to go through and look for pictures or look for family heirlooms or look for any of the old dishes that we had. They took everything.”
Darlena Dotson says initially EDP was apologetic.
“Oh my goodness, we can't believe this happened. We're sorry, we're going to do whatever it takes to make it right,” Darlena said, recalling the original conversation.
But the family was skeptical. It all seemed to be too much of a coincidence.
“I believe it was intentional,” Darlena Dotson said. “I believe this was the stance that they took to make us come to the table to discuss selling our property.”
Two months after the demolition, the Dotsons filed legal claims against the EDP, as well as CVE, the subcontractor EDP had hired to do all the demolition work for the wind farm.
The claim asked for damages for trespassing, conversion, nuisance, negligence and violations of the Bane Civil Rights Act.
Both companies denied the Dotson’s claims and have additionally filed lengthy cross complaints against each other, fighting over who’s responsible to make it right.
A lawyer for EDP declined to comment on the record about the case, instead referring us to statements in court papers that say the company didn’t instruct CVE to demolish the cabin.
The company further asserts that the layout of the wind farm that stands today was finalized and approved by the county planning department before the home was demolished, meaning “the company had no need for the Plaintiffs’ parcel and could not have used the demolition as a negotiating ploy.”
Several calls to CVE’s lawyers were unreturned. Court papers filed by the company admit fault in the demolition, but deny liability.
A GPS application wasn’t working the day the cabin was torn down and company workers “mistook Parcel 19 for Parcel 28 and inadvertently demolished Parcel 19.”
They reject, however, the Dotson’s claim that they violated the Bane Civil Rights Act, writing “ there is no evidence to suggest the demolition of the structure was at all related to racial or discriminatory motives.”
They say the claim should be “one of negligence at most.”
The Dotsons say they’ve been badgered during depositions, questioned about things that aren’t relevant to the case. They maintain that EPD is responsible for the actions of its subcontractor and has not dealt with them in good faith.
“They talk about ‘This is for the environment,’ and ‘This is for the people that live here,’ and ‘We’re going to do right by Kern County and we’re going to make Kern County better,” Darlena Dotson said. “But through that process we’re going to crush the little guy. If you don’t sell to us, we’ll take you down.”