Coastsiders from La Honda to Montara are frustrated at what they say is the slow response from Caltrans when it comes to managing potentially flammable vegetation that’s built up on the state property.
In both places, residents say they have had to nag the state agency to get a promise of future work on the land.
Montara resident Larry De Young is leading the effort on the Midcoast, starting a petition that now has more than 500 signatures asking Caltrans to clear some of the fuels that have accumulated on its right of way. De Young's property runs adjacent to a strip of land owned by the state agency that he says isn’t regularly maintained. He said he is most worried about the ladder fuels that can be seen hanging from low branches, creating a tangle of vines and dry plants that are ripe for fire.
“You can just see how this could go up,” De Young said.
De Young said he started the petition to raise awareness among Montara residents about the dangers of unmanaged vegetation and to get the attention of Caltrans, which owns and is responsible for the land. On Tuesday, he posted an update: Caltrans would do some debris and sapling clearing by September.
The strip of land runs from the Golden Gate National Recreation Area’s Rancho Corral de Tierra to Sunshine Valley Road with Elm and Birch streets on either side. It was intended to be used as part of Caltrans’ earlier plans to build a highway bypass over Montara. Since then, De Young hadn’t heard about Caltrans making moves to use or develop the land. But in his last conversation with Caltrans managers, they indicated that the state is in negotiations with GGNRA to take over the land, De Young wrote on the petition.
Caltrans did not respond to the Review’s request for comment.
It’s not the only area of the Coastside that locals are worried would be a hazard if met with wildfire. In La Honda, Cindy Crowe-Urgo feels like she has a part-time job as an advocate on behalf of South Coast residents who live along Highway 84 from Skyline Boulevard to Highway 1.
Each year, she submits a work order to Caltrans asking the agency to clear the encroaching brush from its roadside, which is the evacuation route for all of La Honda and surrounding neighborhoods. Crowe-Urgo said it usually takes until the end of the summer for Caltrans to get the work done, if it is done at all.
After the CZU fire burned through the Santa Cruz Mountains just south of La Honda last year, Crowe-Urgo said she assumed Caltrans would take an active role in reducing fire hazards along Highway 84 this summer. But so far, that hasn’t been the case. She’s still calling around, filing a new ticket after her first one got lost in the system and following up to make sure the work gets done.
“With all of us having evacuated last year, everyone is trying to do defensible space right now,” Crowe-Urgo said. “We really need to help the state. (Gov. Gavin) Newsom is talking about how he wants everything cleaned up and safe, so yeah, let's do it.”