VACAVILLE — Stephen Cole tried phone calls. He tried letters and emails. He tried permits.
He’s still locked out of his landlocked property that borders eastbound Interstate 80. The California Department of Transportation erected a no-access fence in front of Cole’s locked gate that cut off the only vehicle and maintenance equipment access to the property.
The land is bounded on the other three sides by the steep banks of Ulatis Creek.
Cole has co-owned the property since 1998 but the problem didn’t begin until 2010. At that time he said he was told by Caltrans and the Federal Highway Administration that it’s too dangerous to access the property from the wide access spot on Interstate 80 in front of the gate.
The problem is, he needs to access it yearly to comply with Vacaville city ordinances.
The city has become somewhat of a reluctant participant in the escalating issue. A recent phone meeting, which included Caltrans and the Federal Highway Administration, excluded Cole but included Shawn Cunningham, the city’s public works director. It was an omission that has Cunningham bewildered and Cole perturbed. Cunningham said he told the phone participants that the city “isn’t a player in the game.”
“I said to (the Caltrans representative) . . . we could sit down and agree on what we think is a great plan, but if the property owner doesn’t agree, we don’t have a plan,” Cunningham said.
He said he was given no clear reason as to why Cole was excluded.
Vacaville has some interest, however. Historically, the city, along with Pacific Gas & Electric Co., has had access to the property for such things as bank stabilization and flood control.
The Daily Republic obtained a variety of correspondence from Cole and in a March 30, 2012, letter to Cole, Cunningham stated: “Our ability to access your parcel has also been beneficial in the past for law enforcement purposes. The absence of police access over the past year has contributed to an increase of gang presence as well as homeless squatting on the subject parcel.”
Building a bridge from private property on the opposite side of the creek, which is actually on Aegean Way, to Cole’s property has been discussed, but Cunningham said that is not something the city is going to do. It’s also not something management of the Aegean Way properties are going to allow.
Mayra Ceja, the manager of Stor-It, said they just spent a lot of money making the back fence “doubly secure” and don’t want to encourage the homeless to access their property by giving them a bridge to cross.
Ceja said that a Caltrans representative approached her several months ago, asking if Cole could access his property from their back gate. Wanting to be a good neighbor, she said, she granted access to Cole.
She said she thought it would just be Cole. When Cole made contact with her, she found out that Cole needed access with equipment and the only way to do that was to build a bridge. She gave an emphatic, “No.”
“Oh no, no bridge,” she said. “When Steve told me what he actually needed to do, I said, ‘Oh, there is no way.’ ”
A Feb. 7 letter from Brent Green, the division chief of Right of Way and Land Surveys for Caltrans, used the managers’ initial agreement as a reason to further deny Cole access to his property via Interstate 80.
The letter states, in part, ”Recent contact with business managers at two neighboring properties, the self-storage facility and the mobile home park, indicate their willingness to work with you in regards to temporary access one or two days each year. Both have pedestrian gates . . . utilized by you to access your parcel on foot to clear undergrowth . . . ”
Both Ceja and Cole said that the Caltrans representative who visited the businesses misrepresented the situation, indicating that only Cole would need access, not large equipment, such as a tractor. Cole also scoffed at the notion of clearing more than five acres by hand.
Cole said he’s nearing the end of what he can do himself.
“I think I’m (being) pushed into a position of having to take it to the courts,” he said.
Numerous attempts to reach several people involved from Caltrans and the Federal Highway Administration were unsuccessful.
Reach Susan Winlow at 427-6955 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/swinlowdr.