Running into trouble: Failed negotiations between canal-side property owner and Banner Mountain group spur lawsuit
Friends of Banner Mountain announced this week it filed a lawsuit against Jonathan Davis, a Nevada County homeowner who blocked public access to a portion of the Cascade Canal trail that intersects with his property.
Davis installed gates in April on his property near the intersection of Gracie and Banner Lava Cap Roads. The gates restrict the public from using of a portion of the trail — which runs alongside a Nevada Irrigation District canal — that has been frequented by hikers, runners and walkers for decades.
In a letter he posted on the gate facing Gracie Road, Davis cited experiences with “disrespectful trail users” in recent years as reason for blocking access to his property. The letter referenced incidents of theft, litter, prowlers and homeless sleeping on the trail.
But Friends of Banner Mountain said in a statement that Davis’s claims were unwarranted.
“FBM members who frequently use the trail have not observed evidence of significant litter or vandalism on the Cascade Trail,” the statement said.
Advocating for public use of the trail is consistent with the organization’s mission, which is to “protect Banner Mountain and its natural and cultural resources for the benefit of residents, visitors and future generations,” the statement said.
“This trail has provided benefits to the residents of Banner Mountain and other members of the public for many years, including to other canal-side property owners who regard the nearby publicly-accessible trail as an important asset that enhances their property value,” the statement said. “This is a public rights issue for those landowners and other Banner Mountain residents, and for everyone who uses this beloved trail.”
One gate Davis installed blocks an entrance to the trail on Gracie Road. However, another trail access point — maintained by Bear Yuba Land Trust — is open to the public a few hundred feet down the road.
A parking lot is available at the beginning of the publicly-accessible trailhead, but Friends of Banner Mountain says nearby residents who walk, rather than drive, to the trail face a precarious situation when accessing that trailhead.
“The narrow and rough path down Gracie Road to the alternative trailhead is unsafe and exposes pedestrians to traffic hazards,” the statement said.
Eric Graves, an attorney representing Davis, said his client worked hard to come to a mutually-beneficial agreement with Friends of Banner Mountain.
Davis declined to comment, instead deferring questions to Graves.
According to Graves, Davis proposed developing a walkable pathway along Gracie Road leading to the Land Trust trailhead. He submitted his proposal to Friends of Banner Mountain.
“It would’ve been a paved walkway, for their benefit, and not at their expense,” he said.
Friends of Banner Mountain never gave Davis “direct feedback” on his proposal, Graves said.
“They jumped into litigation without really having any fair chance to come to some resolution,” he said.
But for Friends of Banner Mountain, the new gate seems to bring up a larger issue.
“If one landowner is allowed to exclude the public, unchallenged, what is to stop others?” the statement said. “FBM wants to prevent other property owners from establishing gates and excluding the public from other portions of the Lower Cascade Canal, which could fragment the trail and make much of the 4.7-mile trail inaccessible.”
Friends of Banner Mountain’s attorney, Haley & Bilheimer, has previously settled cases involving Nevada County landowners’ attempts to block public access to trails.
One such case, when a landowner fenced off a portion of the Rattlesnake Ditch near Burma Road, went to the Court of Appeal in Sacramento and settled in favor of public access to the trail.
“This case is a lot different, factually and legally, than the one their attorney won before,” Graves said. “Going down a litigation path is doomed to failure for them.”
Graves said Davis is still open to negotiations.
“We’re just trying to find a solution,” he said.
To contact Staff Writer Matthew Pera, email email@example.com or call 530-477-4231.
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