|Tom Fuhrman, Menifee city council member and land owner in the affected area, stands in the middle of Holland Road.|
Through the rugged southwestern landscape of a town torn between modern development and rural tranquility runs a country road where potholes are the least of concerns.
To the west, where the route enters Lake Elsinore, what was once a country path for farm vehicles is now a paved roadway, widening from two lanes to four as it approaches the new Canyon Hills housing project and the Herk Bouris Elementary School, which will open its doors in two weeks.
To the east, as the route brings motorists westbound from Murrieta Road, a narrow two-lane paved road shows the signs of progress that has marked Menifee's gradual growth for decades.
Where east meets west is a 1,200-foot stretch of dirt road that runs through the private property of four land owners as it completes this patchwork section of Holland Road. Leaving the pavement in Menifee at the Wooden Nickel Ranch at 25690 Holland Road to the east and wandering like some kind of Old West roller coaster through the dusty peaks and valleys bordering ranch land, it finally reconnects with asphalt on a hill climbing across the Lake Elsinore border.
No, this is certainly not the only place left in Menifee where private dirt roads have become well-traveled links between modern public roadways. It is, however, perhaps the most famous at the moment. Because it is the only direct route from Menifee into Lake Elsinore in the immediate area, it is increasingly becoming a "fast track" for vehicles that often exceed the 25 mph speed limit.
|Heading west toward Lake Elsinore, the narrow road rises and dips it way to the Canyons Hills development.|
"I have major concerns about the unpaved road," said Christina White, who lives at the corner of Holland and Murrieta Roads. "Until I found out my kids were going to be attending the new school, I never had any reason to take this road. I think it's totally unsafe ... other cars at full speed cut across to get past you, leaving the dirt flying all over the place.
"Now, with kids having to walk down that path, everyone will be driving more reckless than they already do, with last-minute parents trying to get their kids to school."
Could this potentially dangerous situation be resolved? Yes, say the many parties involved in negotiations to widen and pave that stretch of Holland Road. So why hasn't it been done?
That appears to be a most difficult question to answer.
It's not that the key players aren't trying. As recently as three weeks ago, officials from Menifee, Lake Elsinore, Menifee Union School District and Pardee Homes -- developer of the Canyon Hills project -- met to discuss a solution. Lake Elsinore officials, the group working most closely with Pardee, has a tentative meeting set with one of four land owners involved.
"In my opinion, Pardee has been proactive," said Lake Elsinore Director of Public Works Ken Seumalo, referring to the developer's willingness to extend its paving project eastward across the dirt stretch of road.
Unfortunately, it isn't that simple. Four property owners along the south side of Holland Road -- including Menifee city council member Tom Fuhrman -- would have to surrender several feet of their land bordering the road for the improvements to take place. Fuhrman, the unofficial spokesman for those land owners, says they are willing to do that -- under the right conditions.
"The property owners want to be relieved of the liability," said Fuhrman, who expresses concern about the increasing dangers of collision between vehicles and between vehicles and pedestrians on the road. In at least three places along that 1,200-foot stretch of dirt, the road crests to a peak and then drops sharply 8 to 10 feet. Cars and pedestrians often can't see a car coming over one of those hills until the last minute.
|A blind, uncontrolled intersection at Anna Lane and Holland Road makes the stretch of road even more dangerous.|
"There are the hills to worry about, and then the side streets that are right past a hill, so you can't see if someone's coming out from a side street until it's too late," said Chris Varela, another frequent traveler on that stretch of road. "I'm just waiting for someone to come blowing onto Holland from a side street, leading to a nice little T-bone accident."
Fuhrman, who owns the massive Wooden Nickel Ranch on the north side of the road as well as a piece of land on the south side, said he has brought the matter up to Menifee city staff more than once, the last time as recently as November. Even so, the logistics of working with a developer, multiple land owners and another set of city officials have made the project a challenge for both Lake Elsinore and Menifee.
"It's not a city maintained road, and that's a big deal," said Menifee City Manager Bill Rawlings. "We can't just come in and change your back yard without your permission. It's a real challenge."
It's possible the cities could condemn the affected property of three of the land owners, essentially acquiring them by eminent domain, but not Fuhrman's land, because he is an elected official. The law would require that transaction to go through a third party.
"There's got to be a take of some kind from the property owners that can be worked out," Fuhrman said. "I wrote a letter to the city saying I'm willing to cooperate, but I also want to make sure the road is safe. To pave it the way it is would be a death trap."
There also has been no agreement at this point on the width of the road, whether it could be leveled out, and whether there would be sidewalks. Seumalo says Lake Elsinore is required only to pave a road 24 feet wide with two 12-foot lanes. Fuhrman says Menifee officials want the road to be twice that wide.
So while the negotiations continue and the start of the school year creeps closer, the only thing everyone agrees on so far is that the project should remain high priority.
"Everybody is working on this; it's not like we don't want this resolved," Rawlings said. "It may be convenient to point the finger at us, but we don't have the rights to that property. Even so, we're very concerned about the safety of people in that area."
Betti Cadmus, public information officer for the Menifee School District, said district officials are in "constant contact" with the city about the situation and that the office has received calls from concerned parents.
"Our concern is wanting to have a plan in place as soon as possible," Cadmus said.
|A sign on the west end of the section of road leaving Lake Elsinore warns motorists of what's to come.|