A special vote by residents of North Fork's Cascadel Woods becoming county Road Maintenance District 121 and a vote by the Madera County Board of Supervisors will decide the fate of the area's roads Tuesday, Feb. 12. The issue was recently discussed before the supervisors where it became evident that the issue was controversial to the residents of Cascadel Woods.
The Cascadel Woods subdivision, located near North Fork, was created out of a 480 acre ranch in the 1950s and 60s. The roads were offers of dedication to the county for access as public right of way but for some unknown reason it was done without a maintenance mechanism according to Madera County Road Commissioner Johannes Hoevertsz. Hoevertsz says many offers of dedication were done that way many years ago. In 1963 the Cascadel Woods Property Owners Association was created by residents and they began to maintain the roads.
Hoevertsz says the association is merely a contractor working for the county to maintain the clubhouse and open areas only. In the last few years, Hoevertsz said there have been some complaints by Cascadel homeowners to the county about the association's roadwork in the subdivision.
"The CWPOA with time has appointed itself to a quasi governmental status which is certainly not authorized to do," Hoevertsz said. "Some of the decisions made by the CWPOA have caused the residents to question their actions and the (county) auditor to start looking into their accounting practices."
Because of these complaints Hoevertsz said his department began looking into some of the complaints and realized corrective action would need to be taken and the county would need to step in to oversee that.
Hoevertsz said the culverts were failing and had been done without an encroachment permit from the road department, Department of Fish and Game and the Army Corps of Engineers. He said there is also an unauthorized encroachment that will need to be addressed in the future. He added some other concerns include snow removal without permits, general roadwork without permits and liability issues with the association.
Hoevertsz said it was the above reasons that led his department to issue a cease and desist order to the association, demanding they halt further work on the subdivision roads or culverts or face legal action.
Hoevertsz said he has met with a number of residents in the subdivision over road problems, and they seemed to like the idea of a county-run RMD.
Brian Curtis, a former association board member, said the cease and desist order was very upsetting to the association, which purchased their own snow plow in 2000. However they have now worked out a temporary permit for snow removal for one year because of the snow season.
However Curtis has concerns that if the area becomes an RMD that there won't be as much snow plowing as there is now. Curtis said what the engineering plan outlined for snow plowing wasn't adequate -- a job he does regularly throughout every snow day. As for permits, Ken Wood, association treasurer, said they've never been told or asked to get a permit for working on the roads in 50 years until the cease and desist order.
Curtis said in 2010 they discovered the 1950s culverts needed help so they hired a contractor to replace them. Curtis said they asked the contractor if they needed to apply for permits and he said no. They began working on replacing the culverts but still had some work to do when the county recently stepped in.
"We were trying to do the right thing and in the future we know we can't operate without permits," Curtis said.
District 5 Supervisor Tom Wheeler and Hoevertsz held a couple informational meetings in Cascadel and later the county sent out 218 ballots asking residents if they wanted a RMD or not. Curtis says he feels the the process was being pushed when he showed interest in having the community look into the RMD further before making a decision.
Wood says many residents threw out their packets containing their ballots because they had been receiving so much information from the county that they didn't even look at it. He also noted that 60% of the residents don't live in Cascadel full time so many didn't get the time to even see the ballot.
"Those of us who had been around for a while decided it was a stacked deck," Curtis said. "As more information became available, people became less and less enthralled about it (becoming a RMD)."
However, Hoevertsz says Cascadel becoming an RMD would be a benefit to the association because they won't have to worry about road maintenance at all and can instead focus all their attention on the maintenance of their clubhouse and surrounding open areas.
Currently the association asks homeowners to pay an average of $200 a year for road maintenance, but not everyone in Cascadel pays their part. The proposed fee for a county run RMD is $151 a year -- a $49 savings -- and all residents will be forced to pay it. In addition to that, major repairs or improvements can be supplemented by Measure T funds according to Hoevertsz.
Hoevertsz said initially the county was going to let the residents of Cascadel choose the project's steering committee. But, after seeing how strong emotions were among residents, Hoevertsz said the county decided to go ahead and select the committee because they didn't think Cascadel residents would do so in a timely manner.
Hoevertsz said they asked some association members to be part of the committee but they declined. The county went ahead and picked three people that have "broad experience," according to Hoevertsz, for the initial steering committee. Those members are Mark Stamas, Marie Iden and Roger Tucker. Hoevertsz said that if the RMD gets formed, then the steering committee can begin putting together a new committee elected by community members.
Curtis feels having the steering committee appointed by the county was unfair because two out of the three appointed are proponents of a RMD. Curtis said that 83 residents have signed a petition against the RMD. At the board of supervisors meeting in December, Curtis said carrying the issue to an election is a waste of time, money and county resources and that it should be stopped and the community should focus its efforts of working out the current system.
"From the very beginning they've had the opportunity of calling (association) board members," Wood said. "At several points they could have done this the easy way but for some reason chose not to include the board or association at all."
Curtis says he feels they've received a lack of information and that has lead to a lack of trust.
"They're (homeowners in favor of a RMD) doing it the government way not the neighborly way," Curtis said. "We're mountain folks and don't like to use government unless we have to. If we can do it without government involvement we prefer that. That's what we've been doing until half a year ago and we like it that way."
However Hoevertsv disputes what Curtis said and says he's personally met with Eggink and Curtis several times since September -- both at Cascadel and at county offices, as well as email communication.
Wood did say that all this has opened the association's eyes to some problems.
"Anytime you have an obstacle in life you notice there are some things you haven't paid attention to," he said. "There are some things we need to change with or without a Road Maintenance District."
Wheeler contends the best option for Cascadel is a RMD and backs Hoevertsz in saying road work was done illegally.
"Hopefully they will come to their senses and decide they should vote for that (RMD) and get everything legal and roads back up to shape so we don't have these kinds of problems again."
Hoevertsz said that Cascadel is only one of several areas that the county will be addressing in the future in regards to a RMD.
"The county wants the residents to receive services authorized and performed by qualified individuals in the best interest of safety and welfare of the community," Hoevertsz said.