Thursday, May 19, 2005
Call it the case of the missing trail. Monterey County Parks officials have lost their way on a project to reconstruct a recreational trail along a spectacular stretch of ridgeline that runs from Jacks Peak east to Hidden Hills and Laureles Grade.
When the residential development Cañada Woods North (CWN) was approved as part of the Monterra Ranch subdivision in 1996, the development company partly owned by Clint Eastwood agreed to keep the existing trail open or to slightly realign it so that it would continue to be accessible to the public. Although the trail was not on any county map, it was well-known and regularly used by hikers.
Today, the trail has fallen into disrepair. Neither the developers, County officials nor the outdoor enthusiasts concerned with the trail are even sure where it connects to the Jacks Peak trail system. Some hikers have concerns about crisscrossing CWN property and encountering security personnel.
“Back in the day, that whole ridgeline was completely open space,” says County Planning Commissioner Keith Vandevere. “It was private property but it wasn’t like there was a no trespassing sign. It was a de facto park.”
When Eastwood’s Cañada Woods North subdivision was approved nearly a decade ago, concerned environmentalists requested that the trail be preserved. The County agreed.
In the development agreement, planners laid out 160 “compliance conditions” that the subdivision would be required to meet. Three of the 160 conditions refer directly to the trail. One states that Cañada Woods North and the County will agree on terms and conditions for the construction of the public recreation trail. The second states that when the County accepts the fully constructed trail, the maintenance, patrol and liability will be assumed by the County Parks Department.
The third condition states that the trail won’t be opened for public use until the County accepts the “dedication” of the trail by Cañada Woods North; at the time of the project’s approval, Eastwood and CWN officials agreed to not only make the trail official, but to shoulder the costs of building and dedicating it.
On Feb. 10, 2000, an “Irrevocable Offer to Dedicate a Trail and Declaration of Restrictions” was recorded by Eastwood and CWN. According to this document, the County had 20 years to accept Eastwood’s offer to foot the bill. And, if the County accepts the offer within two years after the filing of the final map for either Monterra Ranch or CWN—which should happen in a year or two—the developer is obligated to construct the trail.
Five years later, however, in May 2005, the County Parks Department has not accepted Eastwood’s offer.
“We’ve offered to dedicate the trail, there’s no question about that,” says Alan Williams, project manager for both the CWN and Monterra developments. “We just need the County to accept it and take jurisdiction over it. We don’t want to create a trail that no one will be responsible for.”
County Parks officials, on the other hand, say the ball is in Williams’ court.
“They actually have to construct the trail,” says Lynn Burgess, Parks planning manager. “Once they comply with this and have fully constructed the trail, then we will prepare the paperwork and take over full responsibility for the maintenance and liability of the trail.”
Local environmentalist and watchdog David Dilworth offers a different explanation: “[County Parks officials] don’t want the liability. And frankly Eastwood and the County are best of buddies. Since he doesn’t want the trail there, pressure on the County to not accept it would not be unwelcome.”
Not the case, says Williams.
“We’ve already dedicated in writing our commitment to meeting these conditions. How can we try to stop something after we’ve given irrevocable commitment to do it? It’s not like we control it anymore. What Dilworth is saying is total fabrication—like usual.”
Meanwhile, there’s one less trail for hopeful hikers.
“People are frustrated,” Vandevere says. “They feel they’re promised something in exchange for a project being approved, years go by and everyone just forgets. Conditions like this trail have a tendency to get swept under the rug unless someone says something.”