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Lafferty Ranch suit put on hold

By LORI A. CARTER

THE PRESS DEMOCRAT

A lawsuit against the owners of land surrounding Petaluma’s Lafferty Ranch has been placed on hold for three months in hopes that the opposing sides can reach a

Lafferty Ranch park is shown in this 2003 file photo. The background is the view toward Kenwood and Sugarloaf State Park. (Mark Aronoff / The Press Democrat)

Lafferty Ranch park is shown in this 2003 file photo. The background is the view toward Kenwood and Sugarloaf State Park. (Mark Aronoff / The Press Democrat)

compromise that would forestall further legal action.

The two sides will meet next week to create a framework from which a settlement might be negotiated.

Legal battles surrounding public access to the land date back decades and bring with them animosity and distrust from previous skirmishes. Advocates for a public park on the 270 acres northeast of Petaluma filed suit in January, reviving their argument that adjacent property owners cannot legally block access to the landlocked parcel.

But both sides recently signed an agreement with the court for a 90-day negotiation period.

Lawyers for the plaintiffs, which include private citizens, Friends of Lafferty Park and the city of Petaluma, believe newly discovered deeds dating to the Civil War era will tilt the legal scales in their favor.

The group is suing Kimberly Pfendler and the Bettman-Tavernetti family, who own the adjacent parcels off Sonoma Mountain Road in the wooded, rolling hills east of town.

Les Perry, Pfendler’s lawyer, said his experts haven’t finished analyzing the import of the old deeds.

“If both sides are willing to come to the table, there’s hope that there is a resolution possible,” he said.

Last month, plaintiffs revealed two records found in Sonoma County property archives that they believe show access to the Lafferty property was written into the record more than a century ago.

At issue is a 905-square-foot triangular piece of land at a 90-degree turn in Sonoma Mountain Road where multiple property lines converge. Just beyond it is the gate to Lafferty Ranch, the undeveloped property’s sole entrance.

Pfendler’s late husband, Peter, and other property owners fought access to the property, saying there was no easement granted, thus blocking access to the gate sitting about 10 feet off the county road. They oppose public access to the land because of privacy concerns, and the traffic and safety problems that hikers and other recreational users could bring.

Mike Healy, a Petaluma city councilman who is providing legal assistance to the citizens’ group, said an 1866 surveyor’s map and an 1869 deed from an adjacent property owner both create a bridge to the landlocked acreage.

Petaluma has owned the land since 1959 and for a time used it to provide some of the city’s water. In the 1990s, disputes over public access to the site polarized Petaluma politics and sparked heated legal wrangling and public debate.

The city spent about $1 million in studies and legal costs, but abandoned attempts to open a park there in 2002. Deals with the state and county also fell through, at least in part due to access problems.

“It’s been epic,” Perry agreed.

South County Supervisor David Rabbitt, who has met with both sides, said he hopes a compromise can be reached that would settle the overall access issue, not just one aspect of it.

“Once you get behind the gate … I’m just not sure if we wouldn’t be looking at another lawsuit and another lawsuit and another lawsuit,” he said. “This way, there’s an opportunity if something can be reached through cooperation, negotiation and compromise — I don’t know that it is yet — at least we have an opportunity perhaps to gain access to the land sooner rather than later.”

(You can reach Staff Writer Lori A. Carter at 762-7297 or lori.carter@pressdemocrat.com.)





4 Responses to “Lafferty Ranch suit put on hold”

  1. James Bennett says:

    First it’ll be ‘seta side’ for us to enjoy.
    Then, as they indoctrinated us to during the ‘shutdown’; there won’t be enough funding to keep it open.
    They have all kinds of environmental reasons at the ready to use as instruments to deny access as well.
    See the Lake Sonoma story?
    This is all part of The Wildlands Network.
    The UN’s Plan to ‘Rewild’ 95% of N. America.
    Follower: you forgot to capitalize the ‘A’ in Agenda.
    Again; search The Wildlands Map.
    It’s pretty self explanitory.

  2. Follower says:

    @Papa ESoCo
    Yeah! …because we have so little “public land” for the citizens of Sonoma County to enjoy.

    PLEASE!

    Advancing the “agenda” at any cost, for any reason.
    Do whatever you have too, whatever you can get away with to punish those evil rich land owners.

    Disgusting!

  3. Wilson says:

    How very interesting that Papa ESoCo’s positive comments about getting a wonderful piece of property opened to the PUBLIC that already owns it are getting thumbs down.

    Why would anybody be against a public park? Any of you thumb-er down-ers care to explain yourselves? There are only positive gains to be made here.

    Marin has dozens of properties very similar to Lafferty scattered around their county thanks to their Open Space District, which works very differently from ours. They are freely open to the public and the neighboring landowners seem to welcome them. It works very well for them, why shouldn’t it here.

    And as for the article at hand, what compromise? A quiet title lawsuit is simply the need for a legal ruling in order to establish a party’s title to real property against anyone and everyone, and thus “quiet” any challenges or claims to the title.

    This legal ruling needs to happen. Plaintiffs – please stand firm.

  4. Papa ESoCo says:

    Well, maybe some 100 plus year old documents will finally, at long last, shut the NIMBY’S up. Now, maybe the Public can have access to this land.