Western Aggregates, Inc. v. County of Yuba, C037523.

CourtCalifornia Court of Appeals
Citation101 Cal.App.4th 278,130 Cal.Rptr.2d 436
Decision Date17 July 2002
Docket NumberNo. C037523.,C037523.
PartiesWESTERN AGGREGATES, INC., Plaintiff and Appellant, v. COUNTY OF YUBA, Defendant and Respondent.
130 Cal.Rptr.2d 436
101 Cal.App.4th 278
WESTERN AGGREGATES, INC., Plaintiff and Appellant,
COUNTY OF YUBA, Defendant and Respondent.
No. C037523.
Court of Appeal, Third District.
July 17, 2002.
Opinion on Denial of Rehearing August 16, 2002.
Review Denied October 16, 2002.

[130 Cal.Rptr.2d 440]

[101 Cal.App.4th 284]

Morgenstein & Jubelirer, Jean L. Bertrand and David H. Bromfield, San Francisco, for Plaintiff and Appellant.

Daniel G. Montgomery, Marysville; Van Bourg, Weinberg, Roger & Rosenfeld, Stanley A. Coolidge, Yuba City, and David A. Rosenfeld, San Diego, for Defendant and Respondent.

Bill Lockyer, Attorney General, Richard M. Frank, Chief Assistant Attorney General, J. Matthew Rodriquez and Peter Southworth, Deputy Attorneys General, Amicus Curiae on behalf of Defendant and Respondent.


This case involves a gravel moonscape left by hydraulic mining in the 19th Century; in the background it features ferries, stage coaches, gold dredging, abandoned towns, access to the Yuba River and millions of dollars worth of high-quality construction aggregates (sand and gravel).

During labor unrest, Western Aggregates, Inc. (Western) had several union members arrested for trespass in the Yuba Goldfields. Some arrestees filed civil rights suits in state and federal court, naming the County of Yuba (County) as one of the defendants. This was the King litigation of which judicial notice was taken at trial. (See King v. Western Aggregates, Inc. (April 21, 2000, C031188) [nonpub. opn.] (King).) Their theory was that they were

101 Cal.App.4th 285

on a public road and therefore County officers should not have participated in the arrests, because no trespass occurred. In defense of these suits, the County asserted the arrests did not take place on public property. In addition, citizens want to use the road to reach recreational sites.

Western sued the County to quiet title to the portions of Western's property over which it was claimed an historic public road ran. After a court trial, the trial court concluded a public road existed, although the original route had changed.

We affirm the trial court's central finding that an historic public road exists through the Goldfields. Western has no right to bar the public from using the road and as of the finality of this decision the trial court shall exercise its jurisdiction to enforce the public's right to use this road. We remand with directions only for the limited purpose of finally resolving this

130 Cal.Rptr.2d 441

controversy by specifying the exact metes and bounds of that public road.


The records of the County Board of Supervisors (Board) and its predecessor, the Court of Sessions, as well as the federal government, establish the existence of a County road known as the Marysville-Nevada Road, which ran along the south side of the Yuba River in the 1850's.

An 1851 map based on surveys of the Feather and Yuba River areas shows a road running from south of Marysville past Ousley's Bar and Park's Bar, two of the mining bars on the Yuba River. An 1850 Court of Sessions order, authorized by statute (Stats.1850, ch. 81, § 1, p. 200), had made all wagon roads public highways. The trial court found "More likely than not, the historical `Marysville-Nevada Road' already existed ... at the time of the 1850 [order], and was encompassed within its terms."

In 1853-1854, the United States Department of the Interior began surveying townships in the Marysville area. Field notes from those surveys confirm the existence of a road running on the south side of the Yuba River from Marysville to Nevada County. An 1855 map based on the surveys shows a road on the south side of the Yuba River, designated as the "Marysville & Nevada Road." Miners used the road to get to Marysville to the west or to Nevada County to the east.

In February 1853, the Court of Sessions directed survey of a road from "the upper end of Ousley's Bar and running to a ferry opposite the Wooster Place," and the field notes show this road on the south side of the river. Later in 1853, the Board approved a ferry license for John Weiser.

101 Cal.App.4th 286

In May 1855, the Board ordered that roads "now traveled by wagons and pack mules" be public highways.

Beginning in 1855, the federal government began issuing township plat maps of the area, which reflect the existence of a road on the south side of the Yuba River. On November 14, 1855, the Board commissioned another survey to "locate a road from Weiser's Ferry on the Yuba River through the mining localities of Sand Hill, Sucker Flat and Timbucktoo [sic] to the main road leading from Marysville to [Nevada County.]"

On February 3, 1858, the Board voted to vacate a short segment of the Marysville-Nevada Road because a parallel road duplicated it. A few days later, on February 9, 1858, the action was rescinded. In rescinding the first action, the Board confirmed the road was a public highway.

An 1861 commercial directory lists post offices in Ousley's Bar and Timbuctoo and lists stagecoach lines from "Wiser's Ferry" past Ousley's Bar.

The Board approved an official County map in 1861, and it shows a County road along the south bank of the Yuba River from Weiser's Ferry past Timbuctoo and into Smartsville.

The federal and state governments owned the disputed land in the 1850's and mostly into the 1870's.

By 1867, the federal government had completed plat maps for the relevant townships. They show the Marysville-Nevada Road ran as shown in the 1861 Yuba County map. The County's expert was able to examine the field notes and determine that the plat maps were accurate, and the location of the Marysville-Nevada Road can be traced to the present time with reasonable accuracy from the Park's Bar Bridge running west.

130 Cal.Rptr.2d 442

Charles Whitecotton was the County's expert. He prepared exhibit No. 105, a composite of assessor's maps, and at trial marked the path of the road by connecting dots where he could ascertain the road had been by looking at the original field survey notes. Whitecotton finds assessor's maps "to be the most accurate as showing boundaries." He also prepared exhibit No. 104, which is a translucent map which shows the relevant township plats. He compared the field notes reflected on exhibit No. 105 with exhibit No. 104 and they largely matched. The survey notes plotted the road at the section (mile) lines because the townships had not then been platted. The accuracy between the plots depended on the terrain, but by employing topographic maps, "surprising" accuracy is possible.

101 Cal.App.4th 287

In 1877 a petition was filed alleging residents near the road had closed part of it. The district attorney made a report, and the Board found the road was a County road and ordered removal of the obstructions. An issue at trial was the meaning of "Walters & Co. Ranch" in the minutes relating to this incident. Western asserted it referred to a corporation, not land owned by Walters and Smith. Whitecotton took the view that "Walters & Co." meant Walters and his associates, and therefore the road referred to related to the parcels at issue herein.

Based on this evidence from 1850 to 1877, Western's trial expert, Philip Sutherling, admitted there is evidence showing the Marysville-Nevada Road was a County road.

During the late 19th century, there is little documentary evidence of activity along the Marysville-Nevada Road. But Sutherling admitted that substantial mining continued in the area and there was a need for access.

Interest in this area expanded in the 1890-1900's when private mining companies began dredging for gold along the Yuba River. The company town of Hammonton, named after Wendell P. Hammon, was founded on the south side of the river between about 1902 and 1905. Hammonton was the site of massive dredging in the early 1900's, when at least four major dredging companies operated in the area. Hammonton Road, as part of the Marysville-Nevada Road was then called, was the main access route to Hammonton and the company town of Marigold. As the dredgers proceeded, the road along the south bank of the river was repeatedly dug up and rerouted. It was understood that any company that dredged through the road had to relocate it. One of Western's predecessors acquired some parcels in a 1915 deed, which reserved "`the ranch and county roads now upon ... the property,'" and required that roads were to be replaced "in substantially the same condition," and "in approximately the same location" after dredging.

Western's predecessor, Yuba Consolidated Goldfields, acquired the other dredging companies by 1930.

The California Debris Commission (CDC) was formed by Congress to counter the effects of hydraulic mining. (See Gray v. Reclamation District No. 1500 (1917) 174 Cal. 622, 628-630, 163 P. 1024.) In June 1908, there is an exchange of correspondence between one of Western's predecessors and the Army Corps of Engineers, referring to "main traveled road to Hammonton" and the need to keep the road open for use by the public. In 1909, there is an extensive diary with repeated references to CDC work on the "county road" by various dredging companies and others. The road

101 Cal.App.4th 288

mentioned is near the Yuba River camps erected for the CDC work. (See Yuba Inv. Co. v. Yuba Consol.

130 Cal.Rptr.2d 443

G. Fields (1920) 184 Cal. 469, 194 P. 19 [describing some of the CDC work].)

The official Yuba County maps of 1909, 1914 and 1917 show Hammonton Road as a county road.

Exhibit P is a report to Western's counsel by Sutherling, in connection with the King litigation, ante, dated March 22, 2000. It recites Sutherling's conclusions regarding various pieces of evidence claimed to show the road was public. James K. O'Brien (a successor to James O'Brien in some of the chains of title) filed an affidavit in U.S. District Court stating the public used the road from Hammonton to Marysville. It also states the outcome...

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