Sunday, May 29, 2016

Progress on Mt. Umunhum

Opening up access to the summit of Mt. Umunhum seems to be making progress, however glacially. In a recent Midpeninsula Regional Open Space District Board Meeting (minutes), the board addressed an issue that's been discussed on this blog before: access to the road leading to the summit. Specifically, MROSD is working on plans to re-pave and partially rebuild the road, and have initiated proceedings to acquire rights to the road through eminent domain.

Planned work near the Bald Mountain Trail Head

The road passes through private land. That's not necessarily a problem; lots of public roads do that. Normally the public holds an easement, a right to use the road. That's a restriction on the landowner's rights, but in exchange they get the use and maintenance of the road.

In the case of Mt. Umunhum Road, I'm under the impression that the road was built to support the Almaden Air Force Station, and clearly the landowners benefited from its construction. Five years ago I assumed that whatever easement was in place was still in force, and the Open Space District may have agreed, but the homeowners construed the easement to apply only to official use. The Open Space District has been trying to negotiate with the owners but they haven't budged, so the last resort is condemnation. Don't feel too sorry for those landowners; they will get an improved and well-maintained road, practically zero new traffic, and about $400k each.

The plan to pursue eminent domain was made late last year, and it was covered in the Mercury News and by Ray Hosler, too. What's new (to me, anyway) is that the process has actually begun. The agenda for the MROSD Board Meeting for May 25, 2016 reads, in part:
In order for the District to construct road improvements during the 2016/2017 construction season, condemnation proceedings for Mount Umunhum Road rights have been initiated with the Santa Clara County Superior Court to obtain possession of the necessary rights.
Woohoo! I don't know much about law, but I'm pretty sure that in order to finish a case you have to start it at some point, so that seems like a milestone. More seriously, I'm sure it would go more quickly if the landowners would settle, but if they were reasonable we'd have had access long ago.

The minutes linked above are a pretty interesting read, as meeting notes go. The plan is not only to repave the road, but also to address drainage and stabilize slopes along the road. The new road will also have pull-outs and improved guard rails. The minutes include detailed drawings like the one included above for the whole route, from Hicks to the summit.

When I started riding my bicycle up Mt. Umunhum I wanted to see the old Air Force station in its "ghost town" state, before it was torn down. I guess that ship has sailed, but perhaps the consolation prize will be a legal ride up to the summit some time before I'm too old to make it.