Tax auction looms for Rastafarian’s property due to brush abatement bill
Joseph Diliberti — Vietnam veteran, Rastafarian, flutist and joyful iconoclast — may soon lose his three-acre compound deep in the San Diego County backcountry.
Diliberti's tangles with San Diego County began in 2004 as a $27,000 bill for weed abatement ballooned — with penalties and other charges — to $69,322, far beyond the financial means of the former Marine who lives on a disability pension from his war injuries.
Because he refused to pay the bill, Diliberti was not allowed to pay his property taxes. The San Diego Rural Fire Protection District has proved unmovable. A lawsuit by Diliberti and letters from his supporters to the Board of Supervisors were to no avail.
Now, his case is heading to a showdown: The hilly, brushy three-acre spread is set to be sold at auction for back taxes and penalties. The minimum bid is $72,000.
"I don't compromise!" Diliberti shouted at the fire board in an emotional meeting last summer. "Either you get rid of that bill or you get rid of me!"
In a weak real estate market, it may be difficult to find a buyer for property so remote and without running water, sewage hookups or telephone service. What happens next is unclear.
San Diego County Treasurer-Tax Collector Dan McAllister said he has no plans to evict Diliberti. "That's not what we do," he said.
Diliberti spends much of his time in a treehouse he built in a huge California live oak. He has a sweat lodge for spiritual cleansing and lives in harmony with the frogs, rattlesnakes, raccoons and birds that inhabit his property. He moved to the rural community of Dehesa in 1979, using money from his work as a building contractor to buy some property. He quotes Thoreau on the need to simplify one's life.
"A true Rasta man doesn't worry about those things," he said.
-- Tony Perry
Photo: Joseph Diliberti, a Rastafarian, artist and sculptor, near his tree abode perched in a California live oak. Diliberti has lived in his earthen dwellings and tree abode in the remote area of the Dehesa Valley in El Cajon on 3.5 acres for about 30 years. Credit: Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times