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Negotiations ordered in Petaluma's Lafferty Ranch fight

  • Former Petaluma City Council member Matt Maguire, left and current Councilmember Mike Healy at the gate to city-owned Lafferty Ranch, in front of the triangle-shaped piece of land that is the subject of a lawsuit. (Kent Porter / 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 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.

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