Where does the buck stop on West Reed Ave.?
It’s a neighborhood divided into two by an old road and an antiquated drainage system.
On one side of the line are the people who want an assessment district to fund improvements on West Reed Avenue at Donner Lake, on the other, homeowners arguing the improvements are the responsibility of local and state government.
“The dissention is pretty recent,” said homeowner Marty Woods, who has been pursuing an assessment district along with a group of other West Reed Avenue property owners since 1997.
The dissent comes on the heels of a number of questions surrounding the issue: Who is responsible for the property damage caused by bad drainage engineering? Does the town of Truckee own West Reed Avenue? Should property owners pay for improvements to a public right of way?
There are many gray areas when it comes to road ownership, which some argue should determine who pays for the improvements.
“The whole point of an assessment district is to turn the responsibility over to a different entity,” said Emilie Kashtan, a West Reed Avenue homeowner who has recently approached the town with information about the road’s ownership history. She argues that if the town owns the road, they should be held responsible for it and should pay for the road and drainage improvements.
But questions linger about the environmental impacts of bad drainage on Donner Lake, and the policy precedent the council will set with its decision.
West Reed Avenue was built in 1924 when the Greenpoint subdivision was approved by Nevada County. Kashtan said the county dedicated the road at that time. When Truckee incorporated in 1993, it had the opportunity to accept or abandon roads that were maintained by the county, but did neither with West Reed.
West Reed Avenue is considered a “non-conforming road,” meaning it does not meet town standards, but it is not outside the town’s jurisdiction to accept a non-conforming road for maintenance purposes.
In the meantime, inadequate drainage installed near the subdivision – which is supposed to divert water from Interstate 80 and Donner Lake Road – releases water into people’s sheds and garages, and floods their property.
“A strong majority of homeowners want to see the drainage and road improved,” Woods said. “The town said they would take responsibility for all the vertical drainage. That’s a big commitment.”
The horizontal drainage around individual properties could be funded by an assessment district, Woods said.
Woods hopes to see the California Department of Transportation throw some money into the project since some of the damage stems from Interstate 80. Caltrans has admitted that the drainage problems exist, but does not have the money for improvements at this time.
Woods and three other homeowners began looking into an assessment district after they decided a homeowners’ association would place too much liability on individual property owners. The assessment would be divided depending on where the property is located and would be spread out over 10 to 20 years, Woods said.
Assuming the town throws in some money, and Caltrans doesn’t, Woods and her husband would pay a total of around $8,000 over 10 to 20 years. Kashtan would pay about $4,300, but some assessments amount to more than $10,000 with one property owner paying $24,000 for the improvements.
But now the road ownership issue has come up, and Woods feels that focusing on it is not the answer, instead, she said, they need to focus on what’s important.
“First of all, the drainage and the road need improvements as soon as possible,” she said.
Most seem to be in agreement that West Reed Avenue has problems.
“It’s really a kick from a civil engineer’s perspective to look at some of the stuff out there,” Public Works Director Dan Wilkins said at the Feb. 20 town council meeting. He cited examples of water discharging directly into someone’s shed or into a flower garden.
As for the financing of the project, that’s where the neighbors disagree.
“The homeowners, the town and Caltrans need to take responsibility for the improvements,” Wood said. The three-pronged approach is reflected in the allocation methodology for the assessment district, which was put together by consultants hired by the town.
“My sense was that the town had already invested quite a bit of resources on this,” Councilman Josh Susman said, referring to $50,000 invested in the engineering plans and investigation into the creation of an assessment district.
He said he also hopes to see the three entities work together to figure out a solution.
Woods said the town has always recognized that it is partly responsible for the road.
Property owner Milan Wight and his wife own property on Donner Pass Road, with secondary access off West Reed. He argued at the council meeting that the issue of ownership must be resolved before any more action is taken on the creation of an assessment district.
“You have the authority to give West Reed Avenue special handling because of its historical development,” Wight told the council. “It is a public road and it should be maintained.”
Kashtan finds it problematic that the town would expect residents to use their own money for maintenance of a public road.
“This (issue) is compelling because you can’t tell citizens, ‘Vote us into a town,’ and turn your backs on them,” she said. “No other citizen in this town is being asked to be responsible or liable for a road, why are we?”
Other than the controversy over funding, some pointed out that the town and residents should be more concerned with the environmental impacts caused by the inadequate drainage.
“The fact of the matter is, we have an incredible resource: Donner Lake,” Councilman Craig Threshie said.
For now, the council has decided to postpone any decision on an assessment district until the neighborhood can come to a consensus, and will address the road ownership issue at a later date.