Residents sue Yuba County over condition of Hammonton Road
April 7, 2014
Resident: Rough road a safety issue
Freda Calvert, from time to time over the years, has approached the Yuba County board of supervisors, asking that Hammonton Road be considered for repairs.
She generally gets the same answer — sympathy from some board members but a response that there isn’t anything they can do.
“Way back when Hammonton was a town, it was maintained by the county,” she said.
Calvert, 74, and her ex-husband, Bill Calvert, closed their grocery store in Folsom in 1973 and moved to the nature and solitude along Hammonton Road. She has lived in the same home ever since.
Now, she said, not only is the condition of the road a matter of personal access, but is also an issue of safety.
Calvert said it was just over a year ago that she fell and broke her ankle on her property.
“It took the ambulance one hour to get to me and two hours to get back,” Calvert said. “That was after I crawled to the house with a bone sticking out to call 911.”
She still has a limp from the injury.
Repaired road or not, Calvert said she has no plans to leave the home she has lived in for 40 years.
“It’s all paid for, and I know a lot of people in the area,” she said. “My plan is to give it to the kids and grandkids.”
– Eric Vodden, Marysville Appeal-Democrat
It's been 14 years since a Yuba County Superior Court judge ruled that Hammonton Road is a public road.
It's been the same number of years that Freda Calvert and her handful of neighbors have been navigating potholes, erosion, washouts and crevices when traveling to and from their homes.
"I would like to see the county acknowledge that it's a county road," Calvert said.
"The county says they don't have the money to fix it, but I believe they have the money."
Calvert, 74, stood next to her vehicle on the other side of a barrier blocking a washed out section of the road about a mile from the Parks Bar bridge on Highway 20.
A car path around the washout was itself washed out a couple of weeks ago, cutting her off from Nevada County.
"It's been rough driving on this road, but it's never been this rough," she said.
The nine-mile remote, winding stretch from Hammonton-Smartsville Road to Highway 20 west of Penn Valley has been the subject of controversy for decades. But once a judge ruled in 2000 against Western Aggregates' claim that the road was private, locked gates and gravel trucks have gone away.
Since it became public, the road, which goes through what was once the historic community of Hammonton, has been used by campers, anglers and off-road enthusiasts. It is the way in and out for what Calvert estimates are about nine families.
"It's so busy in here sometimes," Calvert said of the recreational usage.
But Yuba County has maintained that, while a court ruled the road is public, that doesn't mean it is a county maintained road. It is instead included among a list of unmaintained county roads.
"We have a number of those in that category," said Supervisor Hal Stocker, whose district includes Hammonton Road.
"People can't understand that."
Stocker said he doesn't see that the county will improve the road in the "foreseeable future."
"We can't do it in the present situation," he said.
The road is actually the subject of a lawsuit once again. Calvert and her ex-husband, Bill Calvert, sued the county last November, alleging its failure to maintain the road hurt their property values and threatened their safety.
That lawsuit is cited when county officials are asked to discuss the matter.
Community Services Director Kevin Mallen said the county initially accepted the public road as an "unmaintained road and never changed their position." He said he otherwise could not discuss the issue.
But county officials in 2012 presented options to the Yuba County board of supervisors on what could be done with the road. One of those options would have the county spending about $1 million in improvements and $50,000 a year annually for maintenance.
Stocker said there isn't money available to do that. It would also set a precedent for those living along other county unmaintained roads, he said.
Calvert disputes that amount, saying she isn't asking for a whole new road, just repairs to the potholes and washout.
"It was never so bad," she said.
"If it's not a public road, how could it get so bad?"
Eric Vodden is a reporter with the Marysville Appeal-Democrat.