Summit couple face fine for plowing road clear
A Donner Summit couple face a fine of $34,500 from their homeowner’s association for keeping the road to their home plowed during this winter.John and Karon believe they are the victims of harassment and persecution levied against them by the Pla-Vada Community Association, their neighborhood homeowners’ association.The Pla-Vada Community Association levied a fine of $34,500 against the Caves in April of this year, for violating the association’s policy against plowing roads. The Caves, however, contend the association acted without authority in placing the fine because the association has not had valid Covenants, Conditions and Restrictions on file with the county recorder since 1987. The association is currently circulating new regulations for resident approval.”This house is what we wanted for our children,” Karon said. “We scrimped and saved, we didn’t buy new clothes, we didn’t go to Disneyland. We wanted to provide a safe, healthy place for our family. Now I feel like we’re drowning. Here’s this group of people exercising this power that they don’t even have.”BackgroundLife in Pla-Vada started to turn sour, Karon said, during the family’s first year on the summit in 1998.After John submitted final building plans to the homeowners association and began construction, the Caves said they were informed that a portion of their road is not plowed during winter. John and Karon questioned the policy at a public meeting of the board, they said, and were told they could snowmobile or walk to their home during winter. John assured his wife he could clear the road himself, using a snowblower, plow blade or other means. Though the snows came heavy and hard, John kept the road clear. When he could no longer drive over the snow, he cleared a one-lane width of the road with a snowblower so his wife and children could access their home and the outside world.”It was difficult,” John said. “We barely managed to get by.”Snow fell for several days in December just before Christmas break, leaving deep snow on the roadways of Pla-Vada. John spent hours blowing snow from the road, he said, because he was scheduled to pick up his 11-year-old son from the Kingvale Lodge. John said when he was leaving Pla-Vada to pick up his son, he saw the association’s employed caretaker use a piece of heavy equipment to place a 12-foot berm at the end of the road section. He said he spent two more hours removing the berm.On Jan. 2, 1999, during a meeting of the homeowner’s association board, Karon hand-delivered a letter to the board stating she and one of her sons were disabled, she said. In her letter she requested that the homeowner’s association allow her access to her home. Her letter followed the format outlined in the Americans with Disabilities Act.”I talked with the ADA,” Karon said. “I got the correct form for this letter so it would be a legal request for reasonable accommodations.”The following day, the association placed a cable across the road, Karon and John said, preventing access to their home. John immediately cut the cable.”Seeing that this is my residential road, they better damn well have a law or a rule at least explaining why I can’t drive to my house,” John said. “Where is it written my road is supposed to be closed and theirs are supposed to be open?”Following the Jan. 2 association board meeting, the board sent a letter to all homeowners, guests, renters and visitors of Pla-Vada, stating that the association’s rule regarding road closures had been mailed to all homeowners around February, 1992, the time of adoption, and the rule had not changed. The letter stated that effective at midnight on Jan. 3, 1999, any owner or operator of any vehicle on closed Pla-Vada roads would be fined $500. The letter stated that snowmobiles and ATVs were excluded.As of Jan. 2, 1999, the Pla-Vada Community Association rule regarding road closures and fines had not been recorded with the county, nor had the Cave family purchased the lot until eight months after all homeowners reportedly received a copy of the rule in the mail. John and Karon had never seen the rule before, they said. Though they had known their road was not plowed, they said they had never known the road was closed.John and Karon Cave received a $500 fine from the Pla-Vada Community Association on Jan. 6, 1999. The invoice included the license plate number for a vehicle registered to John and had been issued for closed road violations on Jan. 4, 5 and 6. No letter of explanation or due date was included with the fine.However, enclosed with another letter from the association board, the Caves received an application to join the California-Nevada Snowmobile Association. On the back of the application was a letter addressed to “Fellow Pla-Vada Snowmobile Riders” written by the 1998-99 board president, Elliot Sevier.”As you may already be aware, both the State of California and the federal government are becoming less rider friendly,” Sevier wrote. “They are limiting the use of government lands on which we can ride and are using environmental laws to challenge our machines (yes they are two-stroke motors that do pollute). We need to protect our right to use and enjoy our machines by supporting reasonable rules and laws opposing unreasonable restrictions.”The letter went on to state that Sevier wished to organize a Pla-Vada affiliation with the snowmobile association.”He talks about reasonable rules and unreasonable restrictions when we can’t even get to our house because they want to snowmobile on our street,” Karon said. “I want to say “You SOB – get a life. We’re talking living standards versus recreational desires.”A 1997 Sierra Sun story about a fire which destroyed a Pla-Vada home supported Karon’s statement that living standards are in question.”Fire crews trying to reach a house that was burning on Donner Summit last week were thwarted by 5 feet of new snow on unplowed roads,” the story stated on Jan. 2, 1997. “The house burned to the ground.”According to the article, firefighters had to wait 40 minutes for a snowcat to carry water hoses about 900 feet from the trucks to the house in the Pla-Vada subdivision. The Sierra Sun reported that John Vartock, the owner of the home and a full-time resident, received minor injuries attempting to extinguish the blaze.Capt. Dan Gomez of the Donner Summit Fire Department noted the restricted access to the subdivision at the time of the fire.”Some of the areas up here only have seasonal access,” he said in the 1997 interview. “The homeowners get to their houses by snowmobile.”A Feb. 2, 1999, letter written by Donner Summit Fire Department Fire Marshall Robert Huseby also supports Karon’s statement. The letter states that Huseby had compiled some statistics for the year 1998.”Early notification and access are instrumental in all our calls, whether fire or medical related,” Huseby wrote. “Recently we were called for a medical aid in Pla-Vada where we required the use of our snowmobiles. This increased our response time to the incident due to unplowed roads; as you can see, unplowed roads definitely make a difference in the time we are able to access an incident.”Pla-Vada residents Ron and Sue Lunsford sent another letter to residents in 1997, over concerns they had with unplowed streets.”[We] have studied this issue for months and have conferred with Realtors, lenders, insurance agents and others in the Truckee/Donner Summit area … our lots and homes take three to four times longer to sell, insurance companies are refusing to insure, lenders refusing to lend … the list goes on. Our property values are stagnating while others in the area are rapidly increasing. We not only have an investment to protect but our family’s safety.”At the time the letter was sent, both were licensed Realtors, the letter said. The letter addressed the unplowed street issue, stating that while only a few streets are plowed throughout the winter, all residents pay the same yearly fees.The Lunsford home is on the same street as John and Karon Cave.The Caves were again fined by the association board in a letter dated April 10 for closed road violations. The fines totalled $34,500 – $500 per day for 69 days of driving on the closed portion of their road.”The board gave both of you ample information about Pla-Vada’s Winter Rules and Regulations with ample time to comply,” the letter stated. “By this action, the board is prepared to take legal action if settlement of the issues between the association and yourselves are not resolved.”Karon and John do not agree they were given ample information or time to comply, they said. They had already begun building their home before they were ever informed of the association’s road closure policy. The bill they received the previous year totaled $500 for violations which occurred on three separate days.”How can they bill us one year for a total of $500?” John said. “And then the following year bill us $500 for each individual day. I see inconsistencies here, not ample information. And without regulations, they’re not authorized to fine us for such a thing, ever.”The proposed rules currently being reviewed by residents of Pla-Vada include a clause which would allow the association to close roads.Included with the copy of regulations sent to John and Karon by the Pla-Vada Community Association, the Caves received a flier titled “Why are CC&Rs needed?”According to the flier, the regulations “ensure financial support and maintenance of Pla-Vada roads, and water and sewer improvements.”The flier also states that these regulations provide the association the “authority to maintain roads and water and sewer improvements. Allows association to adopt reasonable rules for use of roads and utilities … Authority to collect assessments and sets limitations on annual increases.”Pla-Vada Community Association President Ron Becker, Secretary-Treasurer Amy Wright and legal counsel Michael J. McLaughlin did not return phone calls for comment, to clarify under what authority the Pla-Vada Community Association had acted in issuing the Caves the $34,500 fine for use of the road to their home.In an earlier interview, however, Becker responded to the allegations that the association board was acting without current CC&Rs, as confirmed by three title companies.”Somewhere along the line they fell through the cracks,” Becker said. “We have been operating under the Davis-Sterling Act because everybody does and it served as a guideline.”The only Pla-Vada CC&Rs on file expired in 1987.An additional flier mailed by the association board to the Caves with the regulations being considered for approval states:”The Davis-Sterling Act requires that CC&Rs be recorded on each lot in a development for the homeowners to be protected by the act. The act benefits the members by … establishing the duties of associations to manage and maintain common areas and improvements.”Karon and John Cave believe that in addition to levying fines against them for rules adopted five years after CC&Rs expired, the board is in serious violation in other areas in which they act, Karon said.Since 1995 Pla-Vada has been in violation for non-submittal of monthly monitoring reports of the sewage treatment facility and discharge procedures, according to an April 20 letter by the California Regional Water Quality Control Board, nor has the association submitted quarterly reports of drinking water quality tests for fecal coliform and total nitrogen.Results of residential ballots cast regarding the new CC&Rs will be announced at the annual Pla-Vada membership meeting June 24.
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