It has been a rather exhausting spring: so much to do and not enough arms and legs to do it all. Finding time to write about stuff that has happened is tough but I have been drafting a few posts and should have them ready for public viewing soon.
In the mean time, we’ve had several inquiries asking how the whole former Pit Of Sarlacc / Santa Clara County Planning Department mess is going. (You can read the first in the series of posts from last year here.)
All I can say in answer is I don’t really have much of this left:
While things have been moving along in fits and starts since my last postings thanks to our wonderful land use attorney, civil engineering firm and geotechnical firm, we are now waiting for approval from county, but it has been such an utter nightmare that I’m just waiting for county’s next obstruction to be tossed in front of us.
The latest development was a doozy….so much so that I finally reached out for some “official” help: something we have refrained from doing over the last five years, but the planning departments is staffed by martinets who refused to alter course even when doing so is in the best interest of an entire community.
This is the email I sent out this morning:
Dear Supervisor Arenas,
My partner and I live in your district at 4012 Higuera Highland Lane, also known as 4012 Higuera Rd, or APN 65415001. For the last five years we have been dealing with the Santa Clara County Department of planning trying to resolve a historic issue created created 60 years ago by the original owners of our parcel. I now need your assistance.
Here’s a condensed history of the issue:
When our house and land, originally 4015 Higuera Rd, was developed in 1966, the original owner cut earth from what is now the southeast corner of our parcel to extend Higuera Rd and provide access to the property. One of the resulting pits created was very large and after a short while the resulting dirt driveway that wound up past it was no longer stable. The original owner then bulldozed a new road up to the house which became Higuera Highland Lane.
Fast forward to the summer 2018, three years after we purchased the property: in the fifty-some years since the large pit’s creation, water ponding, trash accumulation and erosion had become very problematic. During that summer a handful of residents, including ourselves were beginning to organize to address repairing sections of our private road system — the existing turn radii and grades mean it is not fiscally viable for us to seek county to take over ownership. No serious road maintenance had been completed in over fifteen years, nor had any funds been raised for potential work. Thus, in exchange for some repair work, we made an arrangement with a developer to truck in soil to fill in the pit and stabilize the hillside.
Things did not go as planned. We were issued a red tag by County in October of 2018. Thus began an almost five year saga that is still unresolved.
After receiving the violation notice we authorized the contractor to work with County on our behalf. After several months said contractor left the area and all attempts to reach him have since failed. We thought the matter was resolved, but one year later (2019) we were notified we were still in violation so we immediately requested a compliance agreement. We then hired a civil engineering firm, a geotechnical engineering firm and a land use attorney. It took a year for members of County Planning to meet virtually with me and our CE to go over the issue and state their concerns After said meeting in (November of 2020) they requested a geotechnical report which was completed a few months later and submitted to via email to a member of their engineering team per their request. I then followed up with several phone calls but none were returned. It was only after I had our land use attorney prod members of the planning staff in June of last year that the planning department finally revisited the matter.
Since then we have finally been issued a compliance agreement. In the last few months we submitted engineering plans to finish the grading work by taking in additional fill and grading it to further stabilize the hillside. According to the submitted plans we will need an additional 583 cu yd of file, which because of the aforementioned road grades works out to roughly 75 truck loads.
A bit further up Higuera Highland on parcel APN 65415028, County has approved a grading project as part of a new build. As part of that project about the same amount of soil is slated to be disposed of which means trucking it all down the mountain. Running 75 or so trucks down the mountain to take dirt off it and then running another 75 trucks back up to deliver fill to a location less than a half a mile away from the first site makes no logical sense. Especially considering the road they will be traveling upon barely meets the newly drafted Cal Fire/Board of Forestry SRA Road Regulations and it is already riddled with pot holes, cracking, rutting and upheavals. We have requested that we be allowed to take said dirt in preparation for finishing our grading work. Staff at the planning office have said no.
Everyone, from our land use attorney, our CE and Geotechs and even members of SCC Code Enforcement who came out to inspect the site in September of last year agree that the work we have already done and wish to complete is in the best interest of the hillside, environment and community. Add to this that during this time we have been under the continual threat of “daily fines” up of to $100 a day without ever receiving a concise reply from the SCC Dept of Planning as to what actual fines are being assessed — this matter was only fully explained by our attorney. On top off all this is the annoying fact that the original owner of our parcel took the original address (4015) with him when he moved to the end of Higuera Highland and thus all permit information prior to 1988 are attached to another parcel and county has never rectified the situation and instead continually tell us we have un-permitted structures that date back 50 years.
Nothing should be this difficult. We shouldn’t only get a response from the department when either our engineers or lawyers are involved. We should not be under such an emotional strain for over four years worrying about what final monetary ransom we will have to pay. Rolled into this turmoil is the fact that because of pit issue necessary repairs to our 50 year old pole barn can not be completed, a rain water collection system for irrigation cannot be installed, additional solar panels can not be put in place, and a much needed bathroom remodel cannot commence. All because we are attempting to fix a now almost 60 year old man-made problem. Add to all of this the fact that I’ve reached out to county regarding other matters ranging from the drainage issues on our road system and egregious code violations on other parcels yet no one ever responds.
We have been incredibly active in our community since moving here: we have organized and funded the cleanup of a long standing illegal dumpsite along Flint Creek and the removal of a burned out vehicle that had been sitting on the edge of on a vacant lot for over fifteen years. Add to this the numerous meetings in person and virtual regarding necessary future repairs to our roads and the fact that we took financial and physical responsibility for the grading and repaving (plus the security and signage) to recreate a secondary egress route to be used by all residents up here in case of emergencies. And as a bonus, San Jose Fire have their own gate code to enable them to use our property’s paved driveway as an emergency turnaround since currently none exist on Higuera Highland, plus the area near pit at the center of this mess is meant to be an emergency turnaround for equipment should another fire occur up here — it has already been used as such during the <50 acre grass fire in 2019.
And many people at county know about our good work. I was on good terms with Mike Donohoe before he retired and chatted several times with him via email and in person about our efforts here to combat illegal dumping up here. I’ve also chatted with several members of Code Enforcement regarding who in County planning could assist with the tremendous drainage issues currently wreaking havoc for residents up here every winter as well as issues with neighbor’s livestock setups.
We have been patiently slogged through the County process to rectify the situation, but now when a critical opportunity has arisen that is best for the entire community, I’m asking for your assistance to encourage the SCC Planning and Development department to reverse themselves and make the correct decision to allows us to take this fill as trucks are running up and down the mountain as I type this message.
I’m available any time should you wish to discuss this or any related matter with me. My contacts details are below.
Thank you for taking the time to read and consider our request.
/Mike and LC
* Our “PM” at county is Carl Hilbrants but we have also had contact with Darrell Wong and Jim Baker as part of this project. Calls to these individuals are never returned.
* Footage of the condition of roads via this playlist on my Youtube Channel: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLV58zQ-dq0G-6OOjSptKIWHSbRnMfwbD7
* You can read about some of the illegal dumping clean up efforts on Higuera Road related information and news website: https://higuera.org/2018/09/04/this-time-last-summer/
* Also I posted about the aforementioned car removal to our ranch blog site here: https://purgatory.org/2022/08/08/another-fun-tale/
I’ve already received a response and hopefully by Monday we may have a more favorable story to share, but right now I’m all out out of esperance.