The Tepusquet Boundary Survey—­Part 2

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Four items of modern technology greatly enhanced the performance of the field survey of this project: smart phones, all-terrain vehicles, GPS survey equipment, and Continuously Operating Reference Stations (CORS). Typically surveyors calculate probable positions of monuments to aid in locating the general location to begin the search process. We decided to try using smart phones loaded with the Google Earth app as a lightweight, portable search tool. Tepusquet terrain is very rough, heavily wooded on north facing slopes, with thick vegetation almost everywhere else. It is easy to lose track of direction and distance while hiking in these conditions, but the smart phones saved an enormous amount of time by guiding us in to within 20 feet of the calculated position. And of course, the smart phone allows communication with the office and other crew members, the ability to send and receive revised data, and collect photos of the project.

Carrying survey equipment in remote areas in rough terrain is not easy. After a monument was found, it had to be located using GPS. Some monuments were 3 to 5 miles removed from vehicle accessible roads. Fortunately, Penfield & Smith had several four wheel ATVs available during the work, two owned by Glen Nelson and one owned by our firm. These rugged machines are what made it possible to get to the monument search area and then survey the monument if found.

Until the advent of GPS, large scale boundary surveys of remote sites in rough terrain was virtually impossible from a cost standpoint. Even the BLM later admitted that they did not perform a complete search for original monuments and evidence in T10N because it would simply cost too much. GPS completely eliminates the line of sight required by conventional optical instruments in terms of vegetation and terrain. Brush cutting is now limited to the search area instead of cutting a long line of sight to accommodate a traverse or monument side shot. In fact, GPS saves work at both ends of the process: the search A BLM "section corner" monument that was locus is pinpointed by GPS to minimize brush cutting and later re-marked as a control point pursuant then is used to position a found monument where brush to a settlement that was reached between must only cleared in the immediate vicinity for a clear sky the BLM and a protesting landowner. view. Contrast that with clearing line along a traverse for miles, looking for a monument, and then clearing another line when the monument is actually found.

This survey was conducted with a combination of static GPS in conjunction with Continuously Operating Reference Stations (CORS), Real Time Kinematic GPS, and very limited conventional equipment methods. RTK can often give reliable results, but there is no way to prove the results are correct, so it was used only for navigating to a search locus area where smart phones did not have cellular coverage. Conventional equipment was used in a few instances where the tree canopy and undergrowth made clearing for GPS sky view extremely difficult. CORS was the fourth, and most productive, of the innovative tools used on this project. A CORS station has a GPS receiver running 24/7, with data available to users online within a few days. Data from the users GPS is mingled with CORS data in a processing software to create vector ties to as many CORS as needed to determine a position. The advantage is that a single user, or multiple single users, can position a found monument without the time required to set up GPS equipment on other known stations in the survey, or having to coordinate observation times with other users. It is extremely efficient to work this way, all monument positions are related, and the very accurate results are easily documented and fully repeatable.

When the BLM was done with their resurvey, they had managed to upset most of the local landowners in one way or another, not to mention create divisions between those who accepted their work and those who didn’t. Landowner AUH, adjacent to the JET property, ended up with a BLM derived boundary line splitting his house in two! Needless to say, the BLM resurvey did not solve any problems as intended, and actually touched off years of litigation, clouded and uninsurable title for many owners, and negative relations between neighbors. Another result of the BLM survey was that the County of Santa Barbara passed an ordinance that applies only to this area, declares Tepusquet "an area of uncertain boundaries", and provides for boundary agreements between adjoining owners without going through a Subdivision Map Act process. AUH made use of this provision with two of his adjoining neighbors, referring to lines of occupation that were incorporated into the P&S survey.

There was quite a bit of suspicion from a few local landowners when Penfield & Smith contacted them to obtain permission to enter for surveying. In some cases, we needed help from the Sheriff to arrange access times and locations, with anxious landowners providing paranoid supervision to our field surveyors. For some in the area, surveyors are unwelcome because they prefer to stand by the BLM lines from which they benefitted in terms of "extra land." The P&S survey attempted to harmonize long standing evidence of occupation, accepted local monuments, and the work of George Ryzner as the best evidence of the original GLO lines and corners. It is hoped that once our survey is accepted and recorded, it will become the basis for additional "corrective" surveys and boundary line agreements, as well as secure land rights and make title insurable, thereby increasing the value of the land for all the local landowners.

This project represents the most challenging Public Lands Survey System (PLSS) survey performed by P&S since its inception. We faced many technical and legal issues, and a great deal of research was required to ensure the proper execution of the survey. The two key differences between the P&S survey and the BLM resurvey were the location of the northeast corner of T10N and the acceptance of local monuments. Both of these issues required a thorough understanding of the rules under which the BLM performed their resurvey, as well as related case law and local standards of practice. In addition, it was critical to have a solid grasp on the history and events leading up to the P&S survey, largely made possible by listening to the local landowners and considering every piece of information they had to offer. George Ryzner’s niece provided P&S with a box full of his binders, photos, and maps once she heard that a local surveyor had finally agreed to take on the survey. This information turned out to be the foundation of the P&S survey. P&S extensively reviewed the hundreds of pages of technical and legal material produced for the IBLA cases, as well studied and compared reference material such as the 1973 MSI, the 2009MSI, the CFR, books on surveying case law and legal principles, and private notes and letters of both George Ryzner and AUH. We even spent several months following leads to track down two members of the 1980-1982 BLM survey crew to ask questions and verify details.

The BLM found (and accepted as original) a partially decomposed redwood stake as the location of the northeast corner of T10N, which resulted in alternate locations of section and property lines that varied as much as 700 feet from locally accepted lines of occupation. Subsequent investigation by AUH and others (including boundary consultant François "Bud" Uzes, PLS) cast significant doubt on the veracity of the stake. For example, AUH had the stake examined by tree exp
erts at the UC Berkeley Forest Products Lab and then radio carbon dated at the UCLA physics institute. Neither test could not confirm the age of the stake within the range of the GLO surveys. Many local monuments were found and accepted by P&S as the best evidence of the original corner locations, but the BLM rejected all local monuments in T10N, despite the reliance of landowners and substantial collateral evidence supporting the location of many of those monuments. In apparent contradiction, the BLM found and accepted a number of local monuments in the resurvey of an adjoining township, and their field notes state that these monuments were accepted as the best available evidence of corners but with no reason as to why. The BLM surveyor in charge also suggested that the original GLO surveys of the townships in this area were fraudulent, and the possibility that no original monuments were ever set. If that were true, the dependent resurvey method that he performed would be impossible since the method relies heavily on original monuments.

Another aspect of complexity was the question of parcel validity. The Subdivision Map Act makes it illegal to sell a parcel that was not created in compliance with land division ordinances in affect at the time of creation. P&S conducted an extensive title search to determine the exact method of creation. The six month long research task showed that the County had erroneously issued Notices of Violation in 1974. It also turned out that JET himself recorded a series of "lot line adjustment" deeds in the mid-1980’s that were in violation of the Subdivision Map Act. The affect was "two layers" of illegal activity, which lead to meetings with County Counsel, a County Supervisor, and eventually to litigation against the County. Fortunately for JET, a county planner prematurely issued an "application complete" letter to JET without consent from her superiors, thus enabling the JET Trust to successfully obtain Certificates of Compliance.

Besides the complex legal and technical challenges, the field survey itself presented enormous physical difficulties and safety concerns. In addition to the rough terrain and impenetrable vegetation, our field surveyors contended with extreme heat in the summers and extreme cold in the winters, with temperatures ranging from 105 degrees to 28 degrees. No Santa Barbara County backcountry survey would be complete without copious quantities of rattlesnakes and poison oak. No one was bitten by a snake, but we had numerous encounters during the three years of work. Poison oak on the other hand, had to be contended with daily throughout most of the year. In the spring and summer it was extremely thick, and on several occasions it required many hours of careful clearing wearing disposable coveralls. One of these occasions was the search for George’s northeast township corner. On a warm summer day, the crew drove in several miles by ATV, set some temporary survey control by RTK, and then used conventional gear to begin the search under a dense oak tree canopy. The search locus fell on a steep, north facing slope covered in poison oak! After several hours of clearing with a chainsaw, inching uphill, the crew found the corner monument set in 1984 by George, along with the remains of the two bearing tree stumps he found.

A lesser, but still serious, concern was landowners who didn’t want to be contacted or bothered. Tepusquet is a beautiful place, with quiet solitude, natural wonders, and sweeping views. But it has a dark side as well: the remote location of Tepusquet provides cover for the cultivation or manufacturing of illegal plants and substances. In the search for monuments, P&S came across a few very eerie homesteads that were clearly set up for methamphetamine "cooking", as well as many, many, marijuana groves ranging from primitive row crops to sophisticated, irrigated green houses. Crews were never quite sure of the level of hostility they would encounter, and in one instance a sign in the window of an old trailer, apparently home base for a drug manufacturer said it all: "Are you ready to die?"

Penfield & Smith took on a survey that many other local surveyors simply refused to get involved with. The only way for JET to sell the property was to have it surveyed and obtain Certificates of Compliance. Now the only way for JET to recover the costs of the Certificate of Compliance process and boundary survey is to sell the property. Penfield & Smith has been involved in advising the JET trust and its attorney every step of the way, not only with the boundary and parcel validity issues, but also with development feasibility questions, lands use violation issues, and access easement research. Our innovative use of tools and techniques reduced the time required to search for and survey monuments, which translated directly to cost savings for the client. Ultimately it was our persistence that allowed us to complete the survey. We performed the very difficult field survey under less than ideal conditions, which took nearly four years of work in between other projects, and we were willing to put in the level of effort required to understand the complexities of the survey and find a solution that would stand up to legal tests and technical questioning. The fact that the survey has actually been performed and completed is in itself exceeding client needs because it will allow JET to achieve its ultimate goal of divesting from the property.

In the end, the Tepusquet survey was worth the effort and difficulty because it provided good work for P&S, met the client’s needs, afforded excellent learning opportunities for P&S staff at all levels, and forged a friendship with a trusted and respected client. Despite the hard work involved, there was also some lighter moments as we realized that fact really is stranger than fiction in Tepusquet. The constantly unfolding events kept everyone guessing: between the adjoining landowners, marijuana growers, county planning staff, legal challenges, and squatters, Glen Nelson and P&S were never quite sure what was going to happen next. During the course of the work, we often joked about "this week’s installment" of the Tepusquet soap opera!

The Record of Survey is 11 sheets and is complimented by a supplemental information document that is over 200 pages long. The map and information must still be reviewed and approved by the County Surveyor, and may even face some legal challenges from landowners who relied on the BLM resurvey. However, we are confident that our level of effort in field survey, research, and analysis will ensure that the results of our work will stand up to the scrutiny.

Justin Height is a Principal Surveyor and Regional Survey Manager for Penfield & Smith Engineers in California, where he has been employed since 1986. He graduated from California State University Fresno with a degree in Surveying & Photogrammetry, and is licensed in California and Nevada.

A 2.359Mb PDF of this article as it appeared in the magazine—complete with images—is available by clicking HERE