Negotiations are continuing in an effort to settle litigation in the decades-old battle for public access to Petaluma's Lafferty Ranch.
Lawyers for both sides expressed cautious optimism that the dispute will resolve before heading to a courtroom for what would likely be a contentious debate on whether the public should be able to use the 270 acres of tree-dotted land owned by Petaluma but penned in by private property.
"It's too early to say how it's going to end. But everybody is interested in getting a resolution," said Les Perry, an attorney for one private landowner. "And we're continuing to talk, so we can take that as a good sign."
Advocates for a public park on the land filed lawsuit a year ago, reviving their argument that adjacent property owners cannot legally block access to the landlocked parcel northeast of Petaluma.
The plaintiffs, including private citizens, Friends of Lafferty Park and the city of Petaluma, believe recently discovered property deeds dating to the Civil War-era prove the city has legal access to its land.
The group is suing Kimberly Pfendler and the Bettman-Tavernetti family, who own the adjacent parcels off Sonoma Mountain Road.
Petaluma City Attorney Eric Danly said the parties are discussing a potential agreement that a judge would approve that could allow the public access while setting a framework for appropriate uses of the land.
The roadblock to an agreement 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 sole entrance to the property Petaluma has owned for decades.
Pfendler's late husband, Peter, and other property owners fought access to the property, saying there was no easement granted to the city, thus blocking access to the gate that sits several yards off the county road.
The neighbors oppose public access to the land because of privacy concerns, and traffic and safety problems hikers and other recreational users could bring. Sonoma Mountain Road is narrow, hilly and pockmarked leading to the contested corner. The land continues east over hills, where hikers could see the Pfendler home.