Jail time stems from dispute over Hemmi Road motocross track
WHATCOM — When Danny Brocker took ownership of a motocross track on West Hemmi Road, he and his family never expected it would land him in a Whatcom County Jail cell.
But that’s where he sits until August, when his 56-day jail sentence runs out. After that, he will serve 480 days of a jail-alternative sentence, wearing an ankle bracelet permitting him only to travel to work.
“(Jail) had been threatened and hung over his head so many times,” said Lindsay, Danny’s wife. “He was willing to go there, but that particular day we thought that that was not going to happen. He was wearing cowboy boots.”
The jail sentence is something of a cap on about eight years of conflict between Brocker and various entities within Whatcom County government.
Speaking to the Tribune via telephone from the Whatcom County Jail, Brocker said he sees the entire process as the county trying to prove something.
“They’re willing to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to prove a point,” he said. “They don’t like anybody stepping out of line and standing up to this.”
Brocker purchased the track property in 2012, Lindsay said, when the previous owner defaulted on a loan. Brocker was able to make a deal with the investors, she said, and bought the property from them.
“The previous owner was all for that because we were going to be a family someday and would continue the intended use of the property,” Lindsay said.
At some point after that, Lindsay said, her family’s relationship with the previous owner soured. She said he went to neighbors living nearby and told them Brocker was going to expand his use of the motocross track.
That wasn’t true, Lindsay said, and such expansion of the track’s footprint hasn’t happened.
“The neighbors, of course, didn’t want that in their backyard,” she said.
Those initial complaints marked the beginning of eight years of back-and-forth with Whatcom County government. There isn’t a noise ordinance upon county land, and Lindsay said the next complaints had to do with Ten Mile Creek, which runs through the property. Over the years, a variety of issues have been brought up, including the noise, the county’s critical-areas ordinance, the potential for the track site to contain wetlands, Ten Mile Creek’s status as a salmon stream.
The county ended up issuing stop-work orders for Brocker’s track. Deputy prosecuting attorney Royce Buckingham said Brocker did not obey the stop-work order and continued bulldozing on the track.
“When you violate a stop-work order, it’s a misdemeanor,” Buckingham said. “In any event, he again kept riding. He kept bulldozing and he just didn’t pay any credence. He got charged with a crime for violating the order that said he should stop.”
Buckingham noted that Brocker was ruled against seven different times, including by the county hearing examiner, the county council, district court, superior court and twice with the court of appeals. Buckingham said Brocker was ordered to obtain an environmental assessment on the property. Buckingham said he wouldn’t pay the fee to get his assessment reviewed, and the judge found him in violation of and gave him more time to get it done. Brocker still wouldn’t let the county onto his land, Buckingham said, and he said work continued to be done on the track.
Eventually, Brocker found himself back in court. District Court Judge David Grant ruled that he had violated the probation he received for violating a stop-work order.
“Then he came back in front of the judge and the judge says ‘I’m done.’ You’ve been on probation, you’ve had five or six court rulings,” Buckingham said. “What he said, I think, is ‘No more second chances.’”
Buckingham said he deferred to the court regarding Brocker’s sentencing.
“I believe I said that we don’t typically put land-use violators in the jail,” Buckingham said. “But I don’t know what to do. I just don’t know how to get the guy to comply. The neighbors still email me. They send me pictures of people riding and bulldozers. They say it’s noisy, and it is.”
Grant imposed the 56-day sentence with the additional jail-alternative sentence to come after.
Lindsay said Brocker did, in fact, obtain an environmental assessment for his property. Two of them. She said Brocker used a county-approved list to select someone to perform the assessment. The county did not accept the first one, she said.
“It was something to the effect that, he’s an activist of property rights,” Lindsay said. “Danny’s response was, ‘He’s on your approved list. I paid the money for it. Now you’re not going to accept it?’”
The first specialist was then removed from the county-approved list, Lindsay said. So, Brocker went to another. He also performed an environmental assessment and understood that the documentation could be dropped off at the proper county office.
“So he does so,” Lindsay said. “He turns it in. The lady says, ‘Oh, great, we’ve been expecting this.’ So Danny reached out the next week saying, ‘What do you think of my report?’ The planning department responded with, ‘Some unknown individual just left the report on the desk.’”
Brocker was supposed to pay a fee for the county to review the study. Lindsay said Brocker’s legal representation believed the county may have been misleading.
“Originally, when Danny was found guilty of violating a stop-work order, the judge ordered him to cooperate with the interdisciplinary team,” Lindsay said.
Paying a fee for this could equate to contracting with the county, Lindsay said, and Brocker’s representation believed this may give them the right to come onto his land. Brocker did not want to allow this, so he took a stand, Lindsay said.
“He was willing to make that stand and go that far to say, ‘I’m doing what was asked of me and you’re continuing to railroad me.’ Now he’s paying the ultimate price for that,” Lindsay said.
Brocker said the county walked out of an interdisciplinary team meeting when his lawyer brought up the notion of the county not having jurisdiction on Brocker’s land.
“They said, ‘We’re going to leave if you ask that again and your client’s going to jail,’” Brocker recounted.
Buckingham, who was at that interdisciplinary team meeting, said the county does indeed have jurisdiction over the land.
“His land-use consultant said the county doesn’t have jurisdiction to regulate his property,” Buckingham said. “We regulate all the properties in Whatcom County. He kept repeating that over and over. So we’re just waiting for them to get to the issues.”
In the end, Buckingham said, it was a waste of the county’s time, and one of the major inflection points of the entire case deals with the county’s ability to assess the property. Brocker had obtained an assessment, but it’s common practice for the county to evaluate these assessments, Buckingham said. Brocker has never allowed the county onto his land to perform such evaluations, Buckingham said.
“In the eight years we’ve been dealing with this, he’s never let the county see his property,” Buckingham said. “We’ve never been to the property, seen where the wetlands are or would’ve been. We can take a guess from the LIDAR images we have, but you’re supposed to go to the property with the cooperation of a team of people.”
Brocker said the track should be grandfathered in with regards to zoning because it has been in existence for decades.
Buckingham said that ultimately, these points are moot. The county hearing examiner ruled that the site isn’t grandfathered in. Brocker lost a number of rulings, including one made by a jury of his peers, Buckingham said. The hearing examiner ruled that he needs a conditional-use permit for the track, which he doesn’t have.
“That was decided,” Buckingham said. “He lost.”
In the end, not agreeing with a county ruling doesn’t mean a person is allowed to disobey that ruling, Buckingham said.
Brocker and his supporters see the situation differently. Lindsay provided the Tribune with a variety of emails dating back as far as 2013 showing the county’s internal back-and-forth regarding Brocker’s property. Brocker sees it as a railroading by a county government out to get him for his use of a track that dates back decades. Brocker said the county has done away with a number of affidavits submitted over the years from people familiar with the track and the situation. At one point, the county went after him for a bridge on the property, and Brocker had to go to the county itself to demonstrate that the proper documentation was in place for that bridge.
“It just seemed like no matter what we did, they got their outcome,” Brocker said.
Brocker finishes his jail sentence in August. He sold the track to a group called Northwest Riders for God. Brocker said he doesn’t plan to ride on or use the track once he is out of jail.