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Old 01-13-2014, 11:56 PM   #1
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Smile California - what would you do?

We have 150 acres outside of LA that is zoned agricultural. The upper parts of the land are hilly and 60 to 80 acres are some what flat. There is a stream that flows all year long from springs in the upper land and we have water rights as this land has been in the family for over 80 years.

My question is I live out of state and I was wondering how it would work if I want to park an Airstream on the land to use as a glorified, permanent camper to use several months of the year? Do I have to register the AS - thought I read the county wants people living in trailers to be registered.
Our plan is try farming the land since their is a lot of sun which I would think the county would allow us to put a well in and septic.

Has any put their AS on blocks and removed the wheels. A concern is someone could steal it and was wondering if anyone raised their trailer on a foundation of some sort.

Would some sort of foundation cut back on ants, etc.

I am also torn between buying a newer trailer or fixing one up, where I can gut to the floor to make sure the flooring was completely sealed. I was thinking of West fiberglass marine sealing products - water proof and nothing can get through it. Sorry for rambling. A lot on my mind, but I figure first to figure the rules before buying.

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Old 01-14-2014, 04:19 AM   #2
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From my own experience researching this up here in Canada, where laws might well be different, it depends and changes from municipality to municipality.

Some won't allow a permanent building to be erected without planning consent, some have a size limit on what they allow, some allow a vehicle to be parked but exclude trailers as they are worried about trailer parks, some don't care one way or the other.

I'd talk to the relevant people at the county and ask them.

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Old 01-14-2014, 08:49 AM   #3
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The questions you have about registration, etc., will have to be answered by your local county/city office.

Yes, there are plenty of Airstreams out there that are semi-permanently parked. The trick is to know how to support them (ie, you can't just jack them up on each end. The weight still has to be born by the section of the trailer where the axles mount, you just use some sort of stabilizer jack at the ends to keep it from moving. In a colder environment, you might want to wall in the underside of the trailer with hay bales to help with insulation, but this probably isn't necessary for you. Ants, bugs, mice, etc., will all find their way in foundation or not.

In terms of buying new, or fixing up, I would recommend actually spending some time in an Airstream before you go too far down this route. For the money, you could buy a modular home or white-box trailer, and it would be much more comfortable for "full-timing". Airstreams really show their worth when towed down the road. It just doesn't make sense in my mind to spend the big bucks on a newer unit to park it. Many of the permanently parked units are older trailers that are no longer road worthy anyway. I suppose the advantage of using a vintage trailer is that you don't need to stress about repairing the running gear or frame, and you can bypass the holding tanks and plumb it directly into your shore utilities. But you still have to contend with all the infirmities of a 40 year old trailer. They all leak, and you might very well find that you spend your time, instead of farming, patching up problems with the old trailer.
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Old 01-14-2014, 09:23 AM   #4
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If you "Ask" the county if you can place a trailer on site and live in it, I'm a sixteenth of an inch away from guaranteeing they'll say, "No" . . . especially in California. If you follow the "don't ask, don't tell" policy then you're at the mercy of your "neighbors" . . . if your neighbors are "libertarian-like", you'll have no problems (except for the field mice in search of food, warmth and a "headquarters"). If your neighbors are more "californian-like" then code enforcement will be showing up letting you know you're not free to use your land/property as you see fit . . . on 150 acres I'd say you a have a pretty good chance of flying under the radar, but again it depends on your neighbors. And unless there's a shed/shack already on site that already has power to it, you'll have to get by w/ a generator (or a "Solar Field").

You didn't ask but you should probably figure, if you're going to go the fully compliant route and build a house or place a "dwelling" of some sort, that your "fees" will be significant - some (as in most) counties in california will get something between $30k and $80k of your money before you can put a shovel in the dirt.

And we all love Airstreams . . . but you'll hate it if your 150 acres is in the Central Valley and you're living in your Airstream full time in the California sunshine dependent on a generator to power your air conditioner . . . just something to thinking about.

The good news is you've got 150 acres of land w/ a stream and sunshine and potential life sustaining agriculture . . .

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Old 01-14-2014, 10:47 AM   #5
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Thanks for the replies and thoughts. There is an old foundation on the land where the family use to camp and hunt. The build was torn down to keep vagrants out. I don't like the location of the foundation and I thought it would be easier to do an AS rather than the red tape of building. I think there is some flexibility with an agriculture zoned piece, but my concern that once I put a small dwelling on the land, the taxes on the 150 acres will skyrocket. There maybe power near one part of the land, but the idea was solar. My T-Mobile gets full strength on the land so I was thinking of using the cell as a hot spot. Not sure what I would grow - but there is unending water which is rare. The land is surrounded by National Forest which makes it unique and the forest service let us know someone was squatting on the land once. There is a forest service road that runs through it. I see motorcycle tracks and another fear is leaving the trailer there, though there is a nice trailer camp in town to rent a spot. I figured I could have a remote, internet camera to catch vandals and watch property.

Mark - Google Maps shows we are about 400 miles apart as I am in the Santa Clarita area. I am not sure if I would be around during the 100+ degree days, but you make a good point. I get to California dreaming in Oct to April on the east coast, especially when we had zero degrees a week ago and highs today in the 30s. I've seen articles where people who can not expand their primary residence add a couple Bambi's to the property and use as quest homes or offices. I thought I read if the footage of the AS was below 16 or 14 feet, California did not tax it. Can't recall where I read this.
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Old 01-14-2014, 11:11 AM   #6
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I know nothing of California laws. I would want a pole barn or shed to park the trailer under if I was going to leave it on site and live in it. That would help with the temperture in the sunshine also. You will need a place for your farm equipment so why not make it large enough for the trailer also? I keep a trailer in FL year around. Where located we are not allowed to build a cover or shed. I wish we could. So far I have had 3 tree limbs fall on it and usually have a small leak while we are gone. I think the trailer would do better not on a foundation or underpinned. I would leave the wheels on it. Be nice to have gravel or pavers under it. Easy to assure that you do not have some critters living under it.
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Old 01-14-2014, 12:04 PM   #7
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Hello Jinweb:

Last night a TV newscaster reported about a doctor who owns a large acreage within a half mile of the Hollywood sign and is not permitted to build on his property. The doctor has been trying to get permission to build a single family home on it for years, but the supervisors won't allow it. The newscaster said the property is zoned for single family dwelling and agriculture. The supervisors claim the land has been used by the public and contains hiking trails, streams, etc. and they don't want this to change. He has now hired an attorney which has brought it into the limelight. -- Welcome to California and our brilliant politicians.
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Old 01-14-2014, 01:12 PM   #8
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Santa Clarita is in Los Angeles County. You should contact their building department about requirements. My guess is that it will come down to whether your trailer will be permanent or temporary.

If permanent then the County may want to treat it like a regular house, or permanent mobile home. Think health and safety. Will you have a clean source of water like a well? Will you have a septic or some way to properly dispose of sewage? Will the trailer be properly secured to a foundation? Do you have a way to provide heat in the trailer?

If temporary then the requirements will likely be few. You'll just have to move it off the property once in a while.
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Old 01-14-2014, 07:20 PM   #9
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I also read recently that there is an earthquake fault in Hollywood - not sure if it is related. It would seem to me if the town decides the land is for public use, then the city should be buying the land with that decision, but I am going off topic.

I appreciate the replies to my first post on this board. It sounds like I have some home work to do. I did not realize that AS leaked, but when you think of it, it is over lapped riveted aluminum vs a solid piece.

One of the reasons I started this post is having my legal residence on the east coast, I was not sure if I register the AS in California where it be staying or back home. Then I wondered if I had to register at all if it was permanent on the land.

To answer some questions. I researched the deeds last year on a trip to LA and learned the property had water rights dating back to when the deeds were written by hand. I wanted to install a water tank that was supplied by the stream of spring water, powered by solar pumps. The gravity from where the water tank would be placed would provide the pressure needed for the airstream (filtered water) and (not filtered) irrigation of crop. Solar to power the home. Not sure if all AS come with solar hookups, though some for sale have them. I thought of some type of carport structure that had solar on top that can shield the AS. I have also looked at magazines like Dwell that show small homes (800 to 1000 sf) designed, but I was trying to get away from building and being more free style in an AS.

I thought maybe someone in California went through something like I did. For example, there is a company is Santa Barbara that does a nice job restoring AS and uses some of restored AS as rental units like a hotel by the water. Not sure how they did it. Got to run. Thanks again.
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Old 01-14-2014, 08:41 PM   #10
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In Wisconsin if the trailer is not licensed they charge you personal property tax on it every year, which is way more then the license. Why not put in a small water turbine in your stream and power/charge a battery bank with it?
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Old 01-14-2014, 10:13 PM   #11
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Do you have water rights on that creek? In the west, you only have as much water as you have an established water right. This is not like Conn. where if the creek runs through your property, you can take water for irrigation or domestic use just because you own the land.

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Old 01-15-2014, 04:45 PM   #12
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Yes - as I mentioned in an earlier post, the deeds going back 100 years note we have water rights to the stream. I believe the law is up to 4500 gallons per day.

After hearing of leaks and emptying tanks, I might explore building with shipping containers or all metal framing. By the time you buy an old airstream to gut, you could buy two new containers and put on a foundation. They are earthquake and fireproof so I am also going to explore his route after checking what I can and can't do with the building department.

If I connect 8 containers, in a large rectangle, I could actually make a fortress with a center court year to keep the mountain lions out.
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Old 01-15-2014, 05:11 PM   #13
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Originally Posted by jinweb View Post
For example, there is a company is Santa Barbara that does a nice job restoring AS and uses some of restored AS as rental units like a hotel by the water. Not sure how they did it.
The place in Santa Barbara is completely different from the situation you're describing.

The place in Santa Barbara with the AS rental units is on private property in the city, downtown in a dense area. I used to live there and I know exactly where it is. You have to assume they are completely permitted by the city in regards to their water, electric, and sewar hook-ups, as well as permitted to be run as a hotel. Santa Barbara is extremely strict about all of this stuff.
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Old 01-15-2014, 05:28 PM   #14
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Iím mostly a lurker here but as a licensed architect in Los Angeles I have some professional knowledge of what youíre trying to do. Iíve done work in LA, Orange and Ventura Counties and many local cities and am generally familiar with codes; here is what I would recommend to get a rough idea of what you can do with your land:

-Establish who has jurisdiction over your property for municipal purposes. Most likely no part of it is within the boundaries of an incorporated city so it will default to the county; some smaller cities contract with the county for building services as well. Donít expect any nearby cities such as Santa Clarita to have accurate information on County requirements and vice versa, you need to talk to whatever entity would plancheck any building plans for the site. If the land is in LA county the main office for LA County Building and Safety is on Fremont St. in the city of Alhambra, with local offices in various places around the county. Link to their website noting the local offices: Welcome to Building and Safety Website

-Find out exactly what your zoning is and what uses are allowed by right. Other uses may be allowed through discretionary actions such as Conditional Use Permits or variances, but those can be lengthy, costly and cumbersome procedures. Uses allowed by right are just that: you follow the rules and you can put that use on the property. If it is zoned for agriculture most likely a single family home will be an allowed use.

-Normally a home is considered to be a stick-built house and manufactured homes are a different category. The zoning code may allow both or only a stick built. Factory built modular homes can be a grey area. Travel trailers are often allowed as domiciles only during the construction of a home. Residential vehicle storage is an accessory use to a home so itís usually OK to store a trailer, motorhome or car next to a house but unless the zoning allows parking or vehicle storage as a primary use you canít leave vehicles on an otherwise vacant lot.

-Barns, sheds and other farm buildings are normally allowed on agricultural land. It may be simple and easy to put up a shed or small barn and then get power to the site and install a septic system. Before building anything with plumbing youíll have to have your water supply tested. Both potability and flow will be important. Installing a septic system will require the services of a septic design professional and likely some soils testing to determine the percolation rate of the soil.

-Make sure you inquire about any ecological issues regarding the stream or creek, at a certain level waterways are protected, even those that are small. Any ecological restrictions may effect how you can access your water.

-Talk to the local fire department office!!!! This is not the fire house where you find firemen and fire engines, but rather the most local office of the county fire department where planchecking is done - the fire department has their own plancheck process for applicable buildings on top of that performed by the county. Fire departments are extremely powerful in Southern California and can kill building projects. I know of a few vacant and expensive residential lots near the coast where substantial grading and retaining walls were done under a grading permit with the assumption that a building permit could then be pulled to build the house, only to have the fire department say no due to the house size and water supply. Itís easy to gripe about this sort of thing but then again a few firemen have lost their lives in the past few years in rural areas with inadequate water for fire fighting.

Good luck with your project,


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