Out-of-County Resident Land Dispute Puts Entire Crystal Blvd Community at Risk
An angry crowds of local residents numbering near 50 had met at the blocked fire access road to talk about what to do when the one person that has been blocking the road showed up. The crowd was already frustrated after years of dealing with the intransigent weekend resident that had the road blocked, again. This time Supervisor Ray Nutting was there to hear the community's concerns. Mark, the weekender that had the road blocked said that he was putting in cattle grates and planned to run cattle on his property. The fire easement runs through his property.
Angry residents accused him of blocking the road and putting their lives, families, homes, pets, and livestock in mortal danger. They said they could not escape if fire blocked the only other road out. Mark replied that they were not blocked as they had walked past the holes where the cattle gates are being built. But he failed to see one resident on the other side of the hole that was stuck because she had to use a walker.
An angry resident said that he could not get their horses out in an emergency. Mark shrugged his shoulders and said, "It is the people that are important." The horse owner blurted out, "What, do you want me to just let them burn" but Mark did not respond. He simply stood silently in what one person called a 'smug' look on his face.
At this point the crowd erupted in outrage and anger. Earlier days in El Dorado County would have used rope and a tree for a quick solution. But on this day Supervisor Nutting had to physically step between the angry crowd of neighbors and mark and his wife and demand civility. he made it clear that we care about pets and livestock in El Dorado County and that such a cavalier attitude about leaving them to burn was not acceptable.
After a few deep breaths, the crowd was again in the discussion mode, but it was not the last time Nutting would have to ask everyone to calm down and discuss the matter with civility.
Although it was hard to get a straight answer from anyone with years of frustration coming to a point on this one day in the woods, the crux of the issue is who can use the road and when.
According to Mark, the property owner, it is not a public access or a fire escape route, it is his private road. A road that was there many years before he bought the property. Since he has bought the property he put a barn in the middle of the original route claiming that it was the best building location, or the "only flat place on my property." A new route was laid around his new barn. Soon he had that blocked. Now a third route has been built and it on this route that he is installing cattle grates and livestock gates.
According to some neighbors, this is not only a fire escape route for everyone that lives off of Crystal Blvd, it is a regular access for all residents living on Mica. To complicate matters, FEMA has put money into the fire road and Mark's own lawyer has opined that that made it a "Public Access" road. It seems that the neighbors might have the law on their side as the have already been to court over it and claim the Judge ordered Mark to take down the previous gates.
Supervisor Nutting was sympathetic to both side but felt it was still a matter for the civil courts. That was until he heard that the fire Chief had said that he would issue no other building permits due to the lack of a suitable secondary fire exit road.
At this point Nutting said that he would take it to the Board of Supervisor to ask staff to determine exactly what kind of access easement it is so that everyone could understand where they stood regarding using or blocking the roadway.
Unsuitable fire escape routes are a common and significant problem in El Dorado County but the fight is usually about getting one, not blocking one that already exist.
When I left the scene, no street vehicle, livestock trailer, or fire truck could pass the holes on the road and the property owner did not seem to be in any hurry to finish construction.
One thing is clear. Blocking the only fire exit road for the entire community of Crystal Blvd would lead to a decrease in property values and a potential increase or cancellation of current fire insurance policies.
Look for the issue to show up on the Board of Supervisors agenda soon.