EcoLogic Partners, Inc. Land, Conservation, and Public Access
November 15, 2005
EcoLogic Partners, Inc. Files Suit Against State Parks Over Closure of Coyote Canyon Road
On Wednesday, November 16, 2005, EcoLogic Partners, Inc., a non-profit corporation that involves itself in controversial land use matters in the western United States, filed suit in San Diego County Superior Court against the California Department of Parks and Recreation ("State Parks"), alleging that State Parks illegally closed a 3.1-mile segment of Coyote Canyon to motorized vehicles, and that the closure constitutes a continuing public nuisance that must be abated.
The complaint, which also lists two individuals, Jim Arbogast and Wayne Todd, as plaintiffs, indicates that Coyote Canyon was first used as a road in 1775, when Captain Juan Bautista de Anza led an expedition through the canyon on his way from Sonora, Mexico to San Francisco, California (Norte Mexico). In fact, Coyote Canyon is part of the federally-designated Juan Bautista de Anza historic trail. It also happens to lie within the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park.
Public use of Coyote Canyon Road has been near-constant since de Anza’s original journey. During the 19th and 20th centuries the road was used by pioneers and homesteaders, miners, farmers, ranchers, tourists, and desert residents traveling between Borrego Springs in the south to towns such as Anza in the north. The road was also popular with 4-Wheel drive vehicle enthusiasts. According to the complaint, such public use was sufficient to establish Coyote Canyon as a public road.
Vehicle use of the road, however, came to a halt in 1995, when State Parks adopted a new Public Use Plan for Coyote Canyon which called for the closure of the 3.1-mile middle section to protect natural resources. Since that time, both the north and south entrances to the middle section have been gated and fenced.
According to the complaint, however, these obstructions violate California Civil Code section 3479, which forbids anyone from blocking a public road. The complaint acknowledges that some public agencies – namely Caltrans, counties, and cities – have the authority to close public roads, but that State Parks is not among them. Moreover, even those agencies that hold the power to close roads may do so only in limited circumstances, such as when the road must be repaired or no longer serves the public. No agency has the right to close a public road for purposes of natural resource protection, as State Parks did in 1995 when it fenced in Coyote Canyon.
The complaint does not seek monetary damages, but instead asks that the Court direct State Parks to abate the public nuisance by removing the gates, fencing, and other obstructions and thereby reopening the road.
Although the road is located entirely within the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, the underlying jurisdiction over the road rests with the County of Riverside and the County of San Diego. For this reason, both counties have been named as Real Parties in Interest in the litigation.
The case has been assigned to Judge Jacqueline M. Stern, North County Division of the San Diego County Superior Court.
For additional information regarding the lawsuit, please contact David P. Hubbard, counsel for EcoLogic Partners, Inc., Jim Arbogast and Wayne Todd. His telephone number is (760) 432-9917 and his email address is [email protected]