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Thanks for the new living room, neighbor!
December 27, 2004 10:46 AM   Subscribe

Thanks for the new living room, neighbor! In case you needed any further news about the earth moving, residents in Berkeley, CA have found themselves embroiled in a property-line quagmire as the result of the shifting earth. Small quakes and unstable ground have caused real property to slide as much as 20 feet in the last century, though property lines remain firmly fixed, in some cases causing bitter disputes between neighbors who find themselves with new and sometimes unwanted "improvements" relocated across into their survey area. Even in California where the earth moves all the time, the law still hasn't quite caught up to these trickle events.
posted by Ogre Lawless (17 comments total)

 
This means a geologist with enough knowledge of how these things work could get a nice big piece of property on the cheap, if only he was willing to buy now and wait 50 years.
posted by u.n. owen at 11:07 AM on December 27, 2004


Brutal. Here in Chicago we've got a scenario where the super-rich buy lakefront mansions in the North Shore suburbs, and then later try to get the government to fund some kind of breakwater project to stop or reverse the erosion that can cost them up to a few inches of private beach a year. sadly, I appear to be an idiot who can't find any good websites proving that I'm not making this all up.
posted by ba at 11:10 AM on December 27, 2004


How did they measure property lines 100 years back, anyway? Did they have some sort of steam-powered gps?
posted by mosch at 11:18 AM on December 27, 2004


In Panama City, Florida, we have developers who buy large sections of beachfront, cutting off almost all public access, who then demand that the state truck in thousands of tons of sand at taxpayer expense when the hurricanes erode it away. We call it "beach renourishment" so it sounds better to people who are dumb.
posted by u.n. owen at 11:23 AM on December 27, 2004


I was wondering the same thing mosch. Certainly property lines are all -relative- to something else. In this case, I'd assume that the lines eventually tie back, once you do all the adding and subtracting, to some major line (county divide, perhaps) that hasn't shifted, at least relative to the rest of the county on average.
posted by odinsdream at 11:24 AM on December 27, 2004


You're not an idiot, BA. They do something similiar in Capitola
and Santa Cruz, CA. Take a look at depothill.com
for a discussion from the landowner's side.

And for mosch and odinsdream, take a look at the
Mt. Diablo initial point for some steam powered GPS.
posted by the Real Dan at 11:28 AM on December 27, 2004


I'm too lazy (uhhhh, I mean, rushed for work) to look up a citation right now, but Washington State's land law covers a lot of this, at least. The law's phrased in obscure (to me) legal terms, but it covers a lot of the odd cases you might think of, and in a reasonable way. e.g., if your property is slowly eroded by a river, that's one thing (too bad for you); if your land is picked up in one chunk by a flood and deposited elsewhere, that's another (you still own it in that case).

In general, I'd think that adverse possesion laws would address situations like this. I'm surprised that California's apparently doesn't.

Mosch: You can do incredible things with traditional surveying tools like a theodolite, transit, etc. Check out a history of surveying sometime.
posted by hattifattener at 11:29 AM on December 27, 2004


Mosch, this page on some surveying techniques will probably help, if it doesn't just confuse the hell out of you. If it'd been up to me, I would have just arbitrarily stuck stakes in the ground for the first plot and done everything else relative to that. So much work for something that seems, in theory, to be so simple.
posted by abiku at 11:31 AM on December 27, 2004


Here's some crazy instruments used to measure and map boundries.

Also, if you like Thomas Pynchon, his book Mason & Dixon has a lot of discussion about surveying techniques.
posted by ba at 11:36 AM on December 27, 2004


and thanks, the Real Dan!
posted by ba at 11:37 AM on December 27, 2004


In Panama City, Florida, we have developers who buy large sections of beachfront, cutting off almost all public access, who then demand that the state truck in thousands of

Maybe I'm reading too much into your statement, but I was under the impression that there was no such thing as a private beach in florida. There are houses on the beach, yes, but you are on public land if you happen to be in someone's "backyard." The state trucks in the sand because it owns it. Am I wrong about this?

The accessibility of those beaches may be covered under a different ordinance, but every time I'm there (was raised in Sarasota) I notice ample walkways built by the city/state between houses to gain access to the beach.
posted by TeamBilly at 11:52 AM on December 27, 2004


My farm is located on a river, and the deed states that the boundary is the centerline of the river. I'm on the inside bank of a bend in the river, so over time, my property will grow. It already has a few inches just in the three years I've owned it.
posted by ewagoner at 12:22 PM on December 27, 2004


TeamBilly, that is true: but if you can't park your car in any kind of public lot, and there's no adequate public transit, it's not much of a public beach anymore, now is it?
posted by u.n. owen at 1:23 PM on December 27, 2004


Generally, the common-law doctrine of Accretion holds that what blows on your land or falls onto it, burrowing into the land, is your land. Essentially the lines stay static and the owner gets a bonus.
posted by Ironmouth at 1:28 PM on December 27, 2004


> TeamBilly, that is true: but if you can't park your car in any kind of public lot,
> and there's no adequate public transit, it's not much of a public beach
> anymore, now is it?

Approach from the wet side.
posted by jfuller at 2:42 PM on December 27, 2004


Hmmm...A member since: October 11, 2002 should know better than to violate the "guideline" on "NewsFilter".

See y'all snarky Ol' Timers, I'm learnin' to be just like you!

(Apologies to Ogre Lawless, this really has nothing to do with you.)
posted by davy at 4:19 PM on December 27, 2004


man, this is just up the street from my apartment...yet another reason for me not to buy a place in the berkeley hills (as if i could afford it).

Having just taken my PE test, let me just say that the surveying system is set up as grids within grids where the starting points (mount diablo is one of the centers for california) are extremely precisely measured, and then aditional control points are measured to the same accuracy (if you find a bronze plinth in the ground with "USGS" on it and some numbers, don't move it). When you do actual construction you find a local one of these points and then measure from it so that your local coordinates have some frame of reference (thus "control").

The fun part comes in that when the control points where placed they became official, so even though it was supposed to be 80 chains to a side (another fun unit, lets say 1 mile), if it wasn't measured correctly it doesn't matter as they just say that it's placed exactly right. So today we have a much greater ability to measure locations (though GPS isn't as accurate as current laser total stations, unless you triangulate between a few of them)...but we inherit the older points.

Now if you really want your brain to explode, remember that all of these coordinates (locally) are cartesian, whereas the earth itself is a geoid (eliptical...squashed sphere shape). So now when going long distances you have to convert between these two systems and take into consideration the effect of changes in the radius to the centroid of the geoid (i said your brain would explode), now include the fact that the magnetic north moves with time and that there are multiple sets of coordinate systems (1983 was the latest update...still preceeding gps) and you've got one complete brainfuck.

all of this adds up to two things: 1) people like to piss each other off about a few feet of land because they don't want to loose thier view ofthe bay or have more neighbors and 2) i'm never going to pass the damn surveying portion of the PE.
posted by NGnerd at 10:31 PM on December 27, 2004


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