On Nov. 16, EcoLogic Partners, Inc., a non-profit corporation that involves itself in controversial land-use matters in the western United States, filed suit in San Diego County Superior Court against the California Department of Parks and Recreation, alleging that a 3.1-mile segment of Coyote Canyon was closed illegally, and that the closure constitutes a continuing public nuisance that must be abated.
The complaint, which also lists two individuals, Jim Arbogast and Wayne Todd, as plaintiffs, indicates that public use of Coyote Canyon has been near-constant for 200 years. During the 19th and 20th centuries, the road was used by pioneers and homesteaders, miners, farmers, ranchers, tourists and desert residents traveling between Borrego Springs in the south to towns such as Anza in the north. The road also was popular with four-wheel-drive vehicle enthusiasts.
However, vehicle use of the road came to a halt in 1995, when California's Parks Department adopted a new Public Use Plan for Coyote Canyon that called for the closure of the 3.1-mile middle section to protect natural resources. Since that time, both the north and south entrances to the middle section have been gated and fenced.
According to the complaint, these obstructions violate California Civil Code section 3479, which forbids anyone from blocking a public road. The complaint acknowledges that some public agencies - namely Caltrans, counties and cities - have the authority to close public roads, but that the California Parks Department is not among them. Although the road is located within the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, the underlying jurisdiction over the road rests with Riverside and San Diego counties. For this reason, both counties have been named as parties in the litigation.
The complaint does not seek monetary damages, but instead asks that the court direct the California Parks Department to abate the public nuisance by removing the gates and fencing and reopen the road.
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