Rastafarian Billed $60K for Weeds - NBC 7 San Diego

Rastafarian Billed $60K for Weeds



    Rastafarian Billed $60K for Weeds

    When he moved deep into the back country of San Diego County 31 years ago, Joseph Diliberti says he was intent on getting rid of all his "complications."

    The one thing county officials say he didn't get rid of, though, was all his weeds. So the county did that for him and sent the Rastafarian wilderness dweller a bill for $27,552.

    Six years later the bill has grown to more than $60,000 with penalties and interest. County officials, meanwhile, are threatening to auction off the 3 acres where Diliberti built clay dwellings, a sweat lodge for spiritual meditation and a kiln for firing his pottery.

    The dreadlocked ex-Marine, who sometimes relaxes in a colorful hammock outside his primitive dwelling, appears unconcerned.

    "A Rasta-man doesn't worry about these things," said Diliberti, who whiles away his hours playing the flute and reading Henry David Thoreau.

    David Nissen, division chief of the San Diego Rural Fire Protection District, says it is "tragic" that Diliberti could lose his home. But he adds that brush clearance is a serious business. Wildfires in San Diego County in 2003 and 2007 destroyed thousands of homes.

    "We need to stress the fact that little fires get big," Nissen said.

    But Diliberti believes the issue involves more than just fire prevention.

    "The reason I stand out is because no one else lives this way anymore," he said. He said the laws are against people who live his way.

    "Thoreau said that government is best that governs least. I believe that," he said.

    Diliberti, a Vietnam veteran who worked in construction after leaving the military, bought the property that was mainly home to rattlesnakes, raccoons and other wildlife in 1979.

    "I got rid of all my complications so I could come here and live simply," he said.

    He declines to give his age -- "Rasta men don't worry about age" -- but acknowledges he joined the Marines in 1965, which would put him in his early 60s. He has five daughters by three different women, and has built a treehouse on the property for his children and grandchildren.

    These days he survives on disability payments. He can't afford to pay the brush-cleaning bill, he says, and wouldn't even if he could.

    "It's not about money, it's about principle," said Diliberti, who maintains the county-hired contractor didn't haul away weeds but fire-resistant native plants.

    Richard Halsey, director of the California Chaparral Institute, has taken up his cause, complaining to the state Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Water that people like Diliberti are victims of "inappropriate and overzealous enforcement of vegetation clearance laws."