Safety

Vigilante pothole team brings relief to California drivers but draws ire of county officials

Claudia Cowan

Months after heavy rains ravaged roads and bridges in Northern California, officials in Santa Cruz County say it could still take more than a year to repair all the damage, especially in the mountains that are home to several thousand residents. 

That's too long for the Santa Cruz Vigilante Pothole Brigade, a group of intrepid locals who've raised money and manpower to do the job themselves.

The brigade is comprised of moms and dads, firefighters, entrepreneurs and fearless do-it-yourselfers fed up with tire-popping potholes – and a county public works agency telling them to just be patient.

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On a typical morning, they gather for a quick safety chat, don reflective vests and hard hats, and hit the road to shovel donated cold patch. 

"People were giving us lists of where the holes were," says volunteer Launy Senee, "and we would drive around and find them, and we just started getting people together and self-training ourselves, and filling the potholes."

Using their own pickup trucks, they back over the repair job several times, smoothing the patch with their tires. Each job takes about five minutes. 

“It's just terrific to be a part of what we need to do to keep the place going,” Senee said. 

But while the roads are paved with good intentions, none of it is government approved, and liability issues are at stake.

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"We can't have people running out into traffic and filling up potholes by themselves," said Santa Cruz County spokesman Jason Hoppin. "It just could end up impeding our efforts to actually fill more potholes if we end up getting sued because we're letting people do this." 

But the leader of the brigade, Larry McVoy, said his group can handle the small jobs, for free, while the county focuses on $100 million in road damage caused by heavy rains. They say they are saving everyone time, and tires.           

"If you added up the amount of money that people have lost in tires in this winter alone, it would be tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars," McVoy said. 

Neighbors like Dipti Kureshi are grateful for the smoother roads. 

"I come across the pothole team and they're just so awesome that they're doing this, and they're going the extra mile." 

The Santa Cruz Vigilante Pothole Brigade is in negotiations to become officially sanctioned, like volunteer firefighters.

But Mcvoy said he and his band of road warriors will continue to pave over problems and help their community – whether the government approves the group or not. 

Claudia Cowan currently serves as Fox News Channel's (FNC) San Francisco-based correspondent. She joined the network in 1998.