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.


  1. The landowners were being reasonable. All they want is safety and security on their properties. They were in negotiations with MPROSD but MPROSD got impatient and filed eminent domain. The property owners were ready to give that right of way for FREE, but once the MPROSD land mongers filed the lawsuit, the taxpayers now *must* pay the bill for this greedy land grab. All for the sake of opening up the site over 2 years earlier then planned. So now the taxpayers have to pay nearly $1.5M dollars (right-of-way fee plus legal fees) for something that MPROSD could have got for free if they just sat down and acted nice and listened to what the land owners wanted (which was some kind of promise of security and safety - which they never got!).

    1. If that's the case it's certainly unfortunate. I understand (from having rat-holed on one side of the legal documents last night) that many of the requests were specific changes, but I don't know what the sticking points were. I do know that "security and safety" covers a lot of ground, however, and can never be truly assured.

      The disagreement has dragged on, and long-running disputes tend to run even longer, so perhaps it's best to hand it over to a judge for a fair and definitive ruling. Even if it does cost me (and all of us) $1.5 million.

      For what it's worth, I hope that opening up the summit has the effect of improving the security of the area by making it less of an isolated wild west.

    2. "Anonymous", at some point your credibility runs out, and it becomes clear even to the most patient diplomat that you aren't negotiating in good faith. No sane person would ever honestly accuse Midpeninsula of rushing to open its land for public use. I'm no fan of Midpeninsula but if they decided that it was an impasse, I'm giving them 100% of the benefit of the doubt. Their adversaries seem to be guided by old vendettas and misanthropy rather than any legitimate safety and security concerns...unless they're concerned for the safety of the public, given the local history of armed assaults on peaceful cyclists by meth-addled hillbillies.

    3. unfortunately the maniacs will be all over this land trying to grow weed and other stupid ideas.hopefully it doesnt get burned down. but nothing else has up there yet ive worked on hicks road for years and the main problem there is idiots unloading trash everywhere. you wouldnt believe how much debris and trash is just out of sight over the edge of the road. it will be just like hicks all the way to the top in no time at all the rangers dont pick up much they put it all on the county road crewws

    4. I hope that one of the benefits of legalizing pot is that it's now easier and cheaper to grow it legally, in a normal agricultural setting, so we'll see fewer of the illicit fields in the mountains. I've always assumed that at least part of the legendary sketchy behavior in the Loma Prieta/Umunhum area was due to people protecting illegal crops.

      As for the trash, it's a fair point. I remember noting how much trash was over the side of Reynolds Road, for example. Having said that, I'm not sure why someone intent on dumping would bother going further to do it, when they demonstrably have plenty of opportunity on the way there.