Two old maps present shift in Lafferty Ranch dispute

  • Former Petaluma City Councilman Matt Maguire, left, and present city council member Mike Healy stand at a gate to Lafferty Ranch, at left, which requires access from Sonoma Mountain Road across a corner in dispute. Photo taken on Monday, March 17, 2014 in Petaluma, California. To the right is the Tavernetti Family Land Trust. (BETH SCHLANKER/ The Press Democrat)

Public-access advocates say a settlement over the long-disputed gateway to Petaluma's Lafferty Ranch may be imminent, but adjacent property owners characterize the negotiations far differently.

Leaders of the Friends of Lafferty Park effort said Monday that two county maps from the 1860s may be the "final nail in the coffin" that will win a decades-old fight to gain public access to Lafferty Ranch, 270 acres of city-owned land northeast of Petaluma.

But an attorney for the adjacent property owners who oppose efforts to open the land as a public park countered Monday that negotiations are nowhere near a resolution.

Les Perry, who represents property owners including Kimberly Pfendler and the Bettman-Tavernetti family, said discussions have hit a snag as they near another court deadline March 24.

"It looks like we're not talking resolution," he said Monday.

In fact, he said, the discussion has become more problematic for preservationists because another property owner not involved in the legal battle, a trust set up by the late Bonnie Mitsui, has eliminated the possibility of a trail over that key piece of land.

Mitsui was long seen as a partner in the effort to grant public access to Lafferty Ranch, as her property provides a link over Sonoma Mountain toward Jack London State Park.

Advocates for a public park filed a lawsuit last year, reviving their argument from the 1990s that adjacent property owners cannot legally block access to the city's landlocked Lafferty Ranch.

The plaintiffs, including private citizens, the Friends of Lafferty Park organization and the city of Petaluma, say that property records dating to the 1860s prove the public has legal access to the land, just off Sonoma Mountain Road in unincorporated Sonoma County.

Sonoma County supervisors will discuss the lawsuit in closed session today. The plaintiffs have asked the county to join the suit against the private property owners as additional leverage to force them to capitulate.

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