South Bay winery owner fined for letting family live in RV on his property – NBC Bay Area

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Savannah Chanelle Vineyards in Saratoga is home for Marcelino Martinez. He’s been the vineyard manager there for more than 23 years and raised his three kids here.

Michael Ballard, the owner of the winery, said that for the past seven years, the Martinez family has lived in a trailer on his property.

But in 2019, Santa Clara County said it told Ballard the RV trailer being used as a dwelling violated the county’s zoning ordinance.

“I got a letter saying it is illegal to live in a trailer in Santa Clara County and that I had to remove it within the next two weeks which meant the Martinez family had nowhere to go, it was effectively gonna cause them to be homeless, and I refused to let that happen,” said Ballard. 

He said the family kept living in the trailer and the county started assessing him with hefty fines. NBC Bay Area reached out to the county which confirmed in July 2019 it imposed fines of $1,000 a day for the RV trailer violation, which was later reduced.

“At the stated daily fine rate, I probably owe $350,000 to $400,000 in fines at this point,” said Ballard.

Then came COVID, and Ballard still allowed the Martinez family to live in the trailer.

Marcelino said he had no other option.

“It impacted me because I have no money to buy a house or a mobile home … we had no place to go,” said the vineyard manager. 

The county said it worked with Ballard to come into compliance, even extending a deadline, but it wasn’t until October 2022 that he finally obtained a permit to install an accessory dwelling unit, or ADU, at the vineyard. 

The Martinez family expects to move in next month. But Ballard said that after several hearings with the county, he still doesn’t understand why he’s still facing fines for helping a family in need.

“We were trying to be good Samaritans, and trying to help a family that needs housing and we’re getting punished for it,” said Ballard. 

He’ll plead his case with the county in another hearing next month.

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